Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Right To…

I am living in Montreal for six months, working at Concordia University’s Institute in Management and Community Development. Primarily I came here to develop workshops, essays, speeches, trainings and conversations on tax policy since I have come to believe that poor tax policy is the root and/or the result of much of what is wrong in the United States.

Taxes are supposed to do two things: redistribute wealth so that roughly speaking, everyone has access to the same quality of life; and to finance institutions and systems that protect and enhance that life. So of course a key question in all tax discussion is what does that mean? It is fascinating to look at what Canadians think creates a quality of life (insofar as one can generalize across a whole country), and I have discovered some deep differences which can be explained in the philosophies of the founders of both our countries.

Whereas Jefferson declared on behalf of our founding fathers, that the USA would give “all men (sic) the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the founders of the Canadian Confederation dedicated their country to “peace, order and good government.” (I do not need to be reminded that by “all men,” Jefferson actually meant “some white men” and which is a major problem in itself but which I will not discuss here.)

A country that places peace, order and good government as its foundation is bound to develop differently than one that focuses on the rights of the individual. The good of all the people will take precedence over the good of any one person. Authority, the need for authority, and respect for authority will play out very differently, with Americans far more likely to question and even flout authority and Canadians much more likely to defer to it. I have always loved “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and find “peace, order and good government” to not have the same panache, but some 200 years into our respective experiments, it is time to examine carefully what quality of life arises out of these divergent founding statements and what course corrections the United States and Canada might need to make to keep what we value about the vision of our respective founders, and shed that which is not serving us at all.

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