The Worst Politics Treats You as Less Than What You Are, Jamming, 04/07/2015

A typical house in Toronto's neighbourhood of Mimico.
Typical people live here, who have problems, loves,
struggles, and joys. People, basically, like you and me.
I’m taking advantage of my downtime after graduating from my communications program while I look for a steady job to volunteer. This week, I went canvassing in North Mimico with Phil Trotter, the New Democrat candidate for my federal riding. We found quite a lot of receptive, open people who were looking for a change in government and liked what they heard in the NDP message. 

We spoke to only one person who gave us a genuinely frosty reception, getting into a pretty spirited, if still smiling, debate. I didn't hear everything, because I was knocking on some adjacent doors with the other two volunteers, Amrit and Parminder. But what she said seriously stuck with me.

We have to close the borders tighter because immigrants are coming all the time who are sick with cancer and just want to leech off our health care system.* If young people aren’t working, it's because they're entitled and want $100,000 job right after graduation.** If you win, you're going to tax all my income away.***

* It doesn’t matter that this never happens in any statistically significant numbers, any more than voter identity fraud or Mexican-American anchor babies.

** It doesn't matter that the unpaid internship has become the new standard entry-level position, or that business models like Uber and AirBnB pay piecework rates to their contractors that can easily amount to less than minimum wage, no matter how hard they work.

*** It doesn't matter that NDP tax policy focusses on raising income taxes only on the super-rich and finding new ways to collect tax revenue from large-scale personal capital gains.

As I thought about it over the next couple of days, it kind of made me sick.

I think you used to hear these attitudes a lot more often around Canada. It’s not as if casual, thoughtless, ignorant, or outright aggressive racism doesn’t exist in Canada. It’s not as if it’s uncommon to hear the poor or underemployed being blamed for their status.

I’ve been called a loser because I had to change careers in my 30s. I’ve had people treat me as though nothing I say has any value because I had a tough time on my job market. I’m also really glad that, after canvassing two city streets and talking to about 40 residents of that Mimico neighbourhood, I only heard those contemptuous attitudes from one person.

This winter, when I was reading Road to Serfdom, I noticed that Friedrich Hayek gave a fairly frequent, pat explanation of why state socialism was popular with the poor. Poor and struggling people, he said, were envious of successful, wealthy people, so they supported government programs that would build social welfare services with coerced tax revenue from people who had worked to earn their fortunes. That way, they could avoid having to work for their wealth.

Even though he was a brilliant economist and philosopher, Hayek still expressed attitudes of haughty contempt. These attitudes treat people as parasites and scum because of their hard luck. It’s a perspective that treats calls for a more fair society and economy as voices of laziness and resentment.

I’m very glad this now seems to be a minority view. I’d like it better if no one felt this way at all.

Canadian readers, vote New Democrat on October 19.

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