Unlike my other blog posts that have been on specific events, this post is focused on a general theme that I am noticing in politics. Increasingly, our political discourse seems to be based on emotions, while the evidence is being ignored. This phenomenon is not unique to one side of the spectrum; because you see it happening on both sides. In the past, the left and right generally agreed on the facts of an issue, and simply differed on what the preferred outcome would be. Nowadays, it seems the left and the right cannot even agree on what the facts are. I will offer a few examples to support my claim. My intention is not to make judgments on what I think is right, as that should be up to each individual to judge based on their values, but I think it is paramount that we make sure we have our facts straight before making decisions. With the dominance of soundbyte journalism in today’s world, easy slogans seem to take precedence over detailed analysis. I believe this does a disservice to our civil discourse, and results in policies that sound nice, but don’t necessarily work well.
Recently, there has been a lot of coverage on the minimum wage raise to $15/hour in both Alberta and Ontario. This shift is largely based on the “Fight for 15” campaign happening in the U.S.. A question that’s scarcely considered in this debate is: is $15/hour really the ideal minimum wage, or should it be calculated by province based on a number of variables? Much of the left’s rhetoric is based on the notion that no one deserves to live below a certain wage, but ignores the fact that if the minimum wage is too high, it could result in more unemployment; minimum wage earners may end up worse off by not having a job at all. This change could also result in price increases, meaning yes, workers get a wage increase, but they are no better off because the cost of living is higher. Some may argue that higher unemployment is a fair trade off for a higher wage, but let’s make the decisions based on facts not feelings.
In the Occupy Wall Street movement, the focus was primarily on r the 99% vs. the 1%, seemingly forgetting that in the absence of perfect equality across the board, there will always be a top 1%. Many claimed the top 1% were paying too little in taxes and needed to be taxed more. The top combined federal and provincial marginal rates ranges from 47.5% in Saskatchewan to 54% in Nova Scotia, which, when compared to other OECD countries, puts all provinces in the top half, and most (but not all) in the top 10, while all of the provinces are at or above the G7 average. Likewise, the top 1% make 11% of the national income and pay 21% of all tax receipts; the top 10% make 33% of the national income and pay 54% of all tax receipts. Whether or not the rich are paying their fair share in taxes is something reasonable people will disagree on, but there seems to be a common misconception that the rich pay a lower rate than the middle and working class, which is false. Whether or not to raise the top rate should be based on facts, even though there is mounting evidence that past hikes, including Trudeau’s, were largely based on feelings.
While these are just two examples of where the left has appealed to feelings over facts, there are many examples on the right as well, especially with the Trump administration, as well as Rebel media. Many of Trump’s supporters and Rebel media fans want to ban Muslim immigration to Canada based on the idea that Europe is being overrun by crime and terrorism. The reality is that Muslims make up less than 10% of the population in all Western European countries. Also, there are far more Americans killed annually in shootings by other whites with guns than there are Europeans killed in Muslim terrorist attacks despite Europe’s larger population. Not only that, but in the US, the Muslim population is more likely to have a post-secondary education, and less likely to break the law. Besides the abhorrent bigoted nature of wanting to ban Muslim immigration, this is another case, albeit an extreme one, of where feelings over facts are used.
Finally, there is the climate change issue where both sides appeal to feelings over facts. Many on the right claim global warming is a hoax despite the fact that 97% of scientists believe in anthropogenic global warming. Every year since 1985, temperatures have been above the 20th century average, and of the ten hottest years, the majority have been in the last decade. Whether we should adapt to a changing climate or try to mitigate it is a reasonable debate. Likewise, Canada only emits 1.6% of the world’s greenhouse gases, so one can argue we aren’t likely to make much of a difference globally. But claiming global warming is a hoax, once again, emphasizes feelings over facts.
I could probably write a whole book of examples on both sides of the spectrum where feelings are trumping facts, be it keeping the retirement age at 65, more restrictive immigration policies, raising taxes to uncompetitive levels, massively expanding the welfare state without figuring out how to fund it, moving to a pure or nearly pure libertarian market system with few regulations, etc. What I hope to illustrate is the need to look at the actual real world evidence on how things operate, not how we wish they did when determining policy. Based on the positives and drawbacks, we can then decide accordingly. This does not mean one side is right and the other is wrong, it simply means we ought to agree on the impacts, consider our own values, and determine which results corresponds more closely to them. Almost every policy has some drawbacks; to blindly oppose or support anything without weighing both sides inevitably leads to bad decisions. But if we continue to elect leaders who rely on ten second soundbytes and play on people’s emotions without looking at the facts, we as a country will pay for it. If we want politicians to start making decisions based on facts as to opposed to feelings, we need to start demanding they do so, and not vote for those who don’t.