COVID-19

This post was originally shared to my Facebook page.

As the federal government starts actually talking about some form of a temporary relief payment, let’s talk about means-testing.

Means-testing is the process by which the government decides who is eligible for a social service. Your income must be below X. Your family must look like Y.

How do you verify that someone’s income really is below X? Well, you have to inspect their accounts. You have to monitor them. You have to treat them with suspicion. You’re encouraged to err on the side of false positives–if you think someone might be ineligible, better to cut them off than risk letting someone “cheat the system”.

That requires extra resources.

For whatever reason, there’s a certain subset of liberals that have, this year, decided that the “universal” in “universal healthcare” and “universal basic income” should really mean “universal only for people who need it”. They welcome means-testing so that “the kids of rich billionaires don’t get free college”. And look, I understand the sentiment. It comes from a good place.

But the resources and system it would require to ensure that “only people who need it” get these benefits? They make the process so much more bloated, inefficient, and cruel.

Universal should mean universal. That’s the simplest way forward. If the government cuts you a $1000 emergency relief check and you don’t need it, then donate it to someone who does. Give it to the Americans United to Eat the Rich charity of your choice. You have many options for not keeping it. But let’s not preemptively burden a program for social good with the stipulations, bureaucracy, and inefficiency that means-testing requires.

Just this week, Canada approved usage-based billing for the internet. What’s this mean? Now, Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can place caps on the amount of bandwidth subscribers can use, and charge them heftily for crossing that cap. While this may make sense in the abstract, the implementation is where it’s all shot to hell: Bell Canada is switching to an incredibly low 25GB monthly cap, and is charging almost $2 for each gigabyte past that cap. (The cost to Bell to deliver a gigabyte of data is far less than a penny, for reference.)

This is bad in so many ways. Continue reading

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Clay Shirky, “Wikileaks and the Long Haul

Let’s say you’re a parent. Let’s say that one day, under pressure from a bunch of acquaintances who are convinced you’re doing something wrong by neglecting to do this earlier, you start giving your child dessert every night– not only that, but expecting her to eat it. You keep the practice up, night after night, and you see no harm in it, since she seems perfectly happy with it.

Your daughter grows up with this practice. One day, when your daughter is fifteen or so, a friend points out to you that expecting your daughter to eat dessert every night is definitely a bad parenting choice. It’s bad for her health, it fails to teach her how to act with responsibility– in short, it goes against many of the values you had when you became a parent. In light of this, you decide to stop making her eat dessert every night, and instead, to keep sweet options available without pushing them. Your daughter can choose to eat dessert, but you’re no longer pushing it on her. From your perspective, and from the perspective of an outside observer, you’re respecting her right to do what she wants, giving her options while remaining consistent with the beliefs you hold dear as a parent.

Your daughter, though, has grown up expecting this. She hasn’t been unhappy with it; her whims have been catered to for a good chunk of her life. She expects that you’ll provide her with dessert every night. To her eyes, what you’re doing is not an exercise in liberty, in fact she it as the opposite. She feels entitled to her dessert every night. What happened? She was given a privilege so long she began to view it as a right.

This, in a nutshell, is the National Day of Prayer. Continue reading