Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘austerity’

RFT Ep 218 – Bench Clearing Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 9, 2013


This week:
– Pope Day in Canada,
– Irished Water
– Science of Saints
, and
– Does Hockey need Violence?

Download the episode here!


Pope Day in Canada

Bors_SaintifyingJohnPaulBill C-266 – An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day in Canada. We discuss the reasons for the bill, the problems it raised for a secular state. We also cover the argument that Karol Józef Wojtyła (JP2’s real name) should be praised for his work in lifting Poland out of Communist dictatorship. We counter by pointing out the condemnation he deserved for his stance of Condoms & Aids, Child Sex abuse scandal and a whole host of other issues that tarnish this undeserving man.

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Irished Water

Don talks about a proposal to test the effects of purposefully adding lithium to the drinking water in Ireland in an attempt to fight the growing epidemic of depression and suicides that has plagued that nation.

We take a look a number of studies that looked at geographic regions with higher natural lithium concentrations in drinking water and the effect this has on the subject population.

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Science of Saints

385411-111217-new-leak-cartoonThe gold standard of science is replication of results. In a paper published in March titles “the dark sides of Mother Teresa” in the journal Studies in Religion, Larivée et al, found that the facts debunk the myth of Mother Teresa.

The confirms the results Christopher Hitchens came to in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.

We discuss what the monument says, its meaning the plan to unveil another 50 around the USA.

Find out more:

Does hockey need violence?

2335We discuss violence in hockey. Is there a need for the hockey fight? Could you get rid of hockey violence and do we want to?

Find out more:


Skeptical Highlights

Democracy and its Discontents

Philip Resnick, UBC Professor of Political Science, reflects on a range of contemporary issues – from the ascent of the 1%, to protest movements like Occupy Wall Street, the indignados, or the very recent ones in Turkey and Brazil.

Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Hewett Centre, Unitarian Church, that 49th and Oak


Second thoughts on the Senate

RFT host, Don, will be giving a talk on all things senatorial with discussion to follow

Join him at 1pm on Sat July the 20th

At the Tipper Restaurant 2066 Kingsway

With the rash of scandals and RCMP investigations into wrong doing, many Canadians are questioning the validity of the House of sober second thought, in official terms the Senate of Canada or more colourfully The Red Chamber.

I will be discussing the history of the Senate, its role in our government and how it compares to other senates around the world.

I will also discuss the current shenanigans at the Senate and ask the question – What can be done?

Look forward to seeing you there


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Austerity – Alt-med of Economics

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 4, 2012

The very social fabric of society is currently under assault by the forces of economic minimalism. What it means to be a member of a society is radically changing in the direction of extreme libertarian types that believe a society is only a collection of individuals, the government that governs least is best and that personal responsibility means others should feel NO expectation to help their fellow human.

The latest salvo in this assault is “austerity measures” that MUST be passed to avert economic disaster…the Shock Doctrine manifest. Okay, pretty stirring stuff, can I defend this claim….what light can the skeptic tool box shed on this issue. First, we need to define our terms, then seek empiric evidence to support/defuse these claims and lately is there any “test cases” that can be used as data points for analysis.

What is austerity?

Simply put, austerity is the reduction of government spending…well, not really. It is an irony that many governments’ budgets are increasing but this is not due to “social spending” or stimulus spending ; it is due to debt maintenance and financial bailout. Most of this money is leaving the countries in question exacerbating the local economic recessions.

There are three poster children for austerity – Ireland, Spain and the UK. Most people think of Greece or the USA for austerity but these are rather new to the game (Greece) or incomplete (US military spending).

So, let’s check the budgets for Ireland specifically, this was the first to stumble economically and the harshest to follow (with little internal dissent) the “austerity cure”:

Ireland 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total Expenditures 57.722 60.127 54.753 59.160 61.471
Total Capital Investment 11.089 14.609 7.406 10.169 10.249
Debt Servicing 1.939 2.664 4,807 4,904 7.,488
Net Spending 44.694 42.854 42,540 44,087 43.734
Adjust $ (2008) 44.,694 41.,996 40,855 41,494 40.338
The Austerity
0 -2.698 -3.839
All values in billions of Euros. Sourced from the Government of Ireland Department of Finance

2011 also included €7 billion recapitalization of the banking sector…i.e. bank bailouts…after an emergency bailout of over €4 billion in 2009 and another €7 billion in 2010. The bailout money is important because when we talk about austerity, we mean specifically cuts in government spending on society…the bailouts (although arguably necessary) largely went to foreign debt holders or to maintain the liquidity of the institutions. Although the expenses of the state increased these were offset by equal or greater losses in the economy in general.

Austerity in Ireland meant €6 billion in cuts in 2011, including a quadrupling of student fees, reduction in child benefit, EI, welfare, 4% cut in student grants, reductions in public employee benefits and pay, and an increase in the VAT.

The UK spending followed the same trend: £697 billion (2010), £710 billion (2011), and £683 billion (2012).

Okay so first myth, that governments have not ‘tried’ austerity because some budgets are still growing; dismissed. So, what about the second myth that ‘austerity’ is needed to recover the economy; that painful cuts in government spending will stimulate the private sector and revive their economies?

Well there are two metrics we can use to judge this: GDP and unemployment

IMF GDP (Billion US$) GDP % (Constant Prices) Unemployment
2010 2011 2012 2010 2011 2012 2010 2011 2012








































1: In 2010 the Conservatives took power and moved towards austerity measures2: Canada is added as a non-austerity comparison

On the one hand, GDP seems to have recovered but what is GDP? And what does it say about the measure if it does not reflect itself in the employment rate?

This points to a major disconnect in our economy and why austerity, however some economists may insist it is necessary, is ultimately bad for our global economy now. NOW is important and often missed in many discussions about deficit. Why deficits? Well, those who promote austerity do so because they blame rising debt and government deficits for the financial crisis. There is plenty of academic work that shows the cause of the current ‘financial crisis’ has nothing (or at least little) to do with debt and everything to do with under regulated global juggernaut financial institutional gambling (sources below).

That said, debt is not an issue to be ignored indefinably. When in economic boom times we should run fiscal surpluses and pay off the debt…IN TIMES OF BOOM, not Ka-BOOM! In the past we had been promised in good times tax reductions (predominantly for the corporate class) while still maintaining necessary and desired social services. That was society’s failure (or as some more realists believe the result of lobbying and media propaganda by one class for its own benefit). When good times return, the debt should be paid down or eliminated. If debt is such the bane some claim, how has Japan managed to have a robust society and functioning economy for the past twenty years with a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 220%? Greece is barely over 140% and that is supposed to mean automatic economic apocalypse.

But we are not in good times. EVERYONE is cutting back. Tax reductions now (almost exclusively for the corporate class) have not stimulated spending but saving instead. The public is too unsure about the future (largely thanks to political fear mongering about debt and austerity) and put off large purchases for fear of job loss, pension loss or just reduction in pay/hours. The corporations are not spending because there is no demand. If people do not spend, they corporations have no one to sell to. Even in those industries were growth is possible, the corporations are just as nervous of the future as the masses and are saving “war chest” in case of future losses and moments of opportunity to acquire less prudent companies.

For a capitalist economy to function we must have both supply and DEMAND. If the people are not demanding; if the corporations are not demanding; it falls upon governments to stimulate the economy out of recession/depression. This means increasing debt. If government put money into the economy, be it directly through spending or indirectly via hiring, there will be more demand in the economy. This will, if capitalistic logic is valid, cause corporations to supply this new demand resulting in more growth. This leads to inevitable recovery provided enough stimulus is spent. The aborted recovery in the USA shows what too little cannot do. Once the economy is running of all pistons then comes the “adult” moment where we forgo immediate pleasures of tax cuts but instead take the tax win falls and removing the accumulated debt.

So, claim this is simply spending today and leaving the bill to future generations. Well, that is true in one sense; in the future we will have the capacity to pay the debt. It is also true that we are investing today so that future generations will have greater prosperity. That what is spent now will give them the extra needed to pay later. Lacking stimulus now, what we give our children is not a financial debt but a societal one…an economy in ruins; a social contract in tatters; a people in poverty who wished they had the money to pay for today.

As a skeptic we can look to the past. In every economy that experienced depression/recession; the only cure was stimulus. In most cases governments were the source of this spending and only in rare cases has this failed and those times under conditions not likely to be repeated (Weimar Germany). The empirical evidence shows that austerity in the past has failed (Hoover in the 1930s) and it is doing little better today (Ireland). So, that leads to the question why are so many politicians are moving forward with austerity?

“By the way, I think you’ve just given me confirmation of something that people like me tend to say [about those who promote austerity], which is, actually none of this is at all about fiscal responsibility. It’s all about exploiting the current situation to pursue an ideological goal of a smaller state. We could argue whether the British State is too large but Sweden which is weathering this very well with a much larger state presence than [the UK]…that’s suggesting you’re not actually sincere. That it’s not really the budget deficits that concern you but you looking for a way to exploit this definite situation to pursue an agenda” Paul Krugman on Newsnight, 30 May 2012


Austerity falls out of fashion


The Austerity Agenda

Austerity is Not About Policy, But Ideology

Austerity Plans Are Based on the Wrong Diagnosis of the Wrong Problem

The Macroeconomic and Distributional Effects of Fiscal Austerity

Britain’s austerity drive as ‘deeply destructive’

Austerity Defenses

Amid EU Austerity Backlash

Greek “Bailout” is a Bank Bailout

Expansionary Austerity

Austerity isn’t working: There is an alternative

Anti-austerity movements gaining momentum across Europe

The “Austerity Myth”

Irish Budget 2011 – Key Points

EU austerity drive country by country

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Radio Freethinker Episode 167 – Global Austerity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 22, 2012

This week:

– Space X launch,
– Dangers of overselling vaccination ,
– Canada’s endangered scientist,
– Austerity: does it work (Part 1 of 3 interview with Seth Klein).

Download the episode here!

Space X Launch

Space X successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule to restock the International Space Station. 

Find out more:

Dangers of overselling vaccination

New research shows that overselling vaccination causes people to be less likely to get their children vaccinated.

Find out more:

Canada’s endangered scientist

We discuss the Harper governments budget cuts and the extreme harm they are having on Canada’s scientific community and research. We focus on the Experimental Lakes Area.

Find out more:

Austerity: does it work

Don’s sits down with Seth Klein in the Radio Free Thinker virtual studio and discusses austerity: what it is, does it work and is our governments following the austerity bandwagon.

Seth Klein is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for BC.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.

Illusions of note:

Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.

TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.

The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination

Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.

When: May 23 at 7pm

Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe

Cost: Free

Canadian Copyright Law for Composers

MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.

When: May 25 from 2-4pm

Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie

Cost: Free

E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue

This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making.  This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.

The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.

When: May 26 from 2-5pm

Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings

Cost: by donation

slutTALK: The (Un)Conference

In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.

When: May 26 from 1-4pm

Where: WISE Hall – 1882 Adanac

Cost: by donation

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Starving CBC to death

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 20, 2012

The new budget announced by the Harper government will hit Canadians in several ways thanks to the new word of the day “Austerity”.  Austerity has failed in Ireland, failed in England, failed in Greece, Spain and Portugal…so it seems we will try it here because? Well, our government must technically be insane, based on the definition that if you try something that has been done again and again with the same result but you assume you will get a different outcome well you might be a redne…er insane.

Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated it best “None of these spending cuts are actually necessary.  A balanced budget could be achieved just one year later than Flaherty’s target, without inflicting any of the damage.”

BUT I will suspend my usual rant about whether we should be stimulating an economy during a recession…something all but the most ideologue Friedman-ittes recommend…no, I would like to look at what was cut and its potential impact on the skeptical community.

First, it is no secret that Harper personally and the conservative movement in general has always considered a corporate-independent source of news unacceptable or at least uncomfortable. To this aim, Harper has (and to be fair Paul Martin as Liberal finance minister and leader before him) constantly attempted to undermine the financial base of the CBC.

The CBC has gone from a completely publicly funded institution whose primary aim was to provide an independent source of news and promotion of the uniquely Canadian culture to an emaciated version of its goals.

As funding for the CBC was cut, the CBC has become more and more dependent on corporate advertising. It is not coincidental that as politicians have attempted to starve the CBC out of existence its ability to be both effective and independent of its advertisers has diminished.

In a line made famous by Grover Norquist I will paraphrase what has been attempted. They wish to shrink the CBC to a size they can drown it in the bathtub. worst effect this has on the CBC is not only the reduced funding but the unpredictability of such funding. Prior to the election Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore stated that “We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that”.

Of course now that they no longer have deal with being a minority in parliament, this majority government doesn’t care. Harper’s group has shown time and again they don’t give a damn what the people want…what is best for Canada…their main, (dare I say) only concern is promoting their own agenda.

So, why should we care? I did say I would be taking a skeptical view of this issue. Well as Ethan has mentioned many times on the show before, his favorite CBC show…I suspect maybe one of his top 10 favorite show currently on, is Marketplace. Market place has taken some very tough stands that annoy corporations.

Now, as the CBC becomes more dependent on advertisers there will be pressure put upon shows like the CBC now airs to not ‘agitate’ its funding base. It is common operating practice for CTV and Global which has no show like Market Place or the Nature of Things…they know who pays the bills and jump to that master.

There is more than the independence angle. The CBC will be shedding almost 700 jobs. These are the people who do the interviewing and investigations around the world…or who will not be soon. The CBC’s ability to be a source of international independent (that is independent of other agencies like FOX news or CNN) is being destroyed. Soon the CBC will be a re-tweeter of news from other agencies or worse. Lacking the manpower to produce news, they will rely on a practice common in the USA now (and I suspect on our corporate news channels) where corporate press-releases and faux-news videos are broadcast as real news simply to fill the space and cut down on cost.

The loss of jobs also means whole regions of this country will lose their CBC presence, notably the Maritimes this time, after the prairies were decimated in previous budget cuts. We are a large county and one of the things that bound us together…created a Canadian identity was the CBC. As more and more of our voices are silenced, regionalism will grow and Canada will cease to be a culture but merely a warehouse repository for American/Asian raw materials.

And of course, let’s not forget the support the CBC gives to the Canadian arts. Regional programing like This Hour Has 22 Minutes…the Red Green Show…artist like the Barenaked Ladies, OLP, Nickelback would likely have never been if it were not for the CBC.  Now most ‘young’ people don’t think of the CBC as a cultural incubator…when was the last “hit” show produced by the CBC?

This is part of the fallout; the cutting of the CBC has been occurring since the Mulroney years…to live up to its mandate of serving public interest, the CBC first strangled its child “the arts”…in the hopes of keeping the rest of the broadcast family alive. Kids today don’t think of the CBC as entertaining because that role has already been cut to irrelevance; now the Harper government wished to finish the job…and it may well succeed if we remain silent.

Part of the problem is unreliability of the funding. The CBC never knows what its budget will be year to year. The CBC MUST play politics to ensure, or more often limit loses to, its budget. We could adopt a funding scheme like they have in the UK for the BBC.

In the UK every household watching TV must pay a licence fee…about 230$ a year. Canada, does not have the cultural history of such a licence, but a simple guarantee of a certain percentage of tax revenues as little as 0.08% or even a surtax could suffice. This would allow the CBC to know what it could expect long into the future and plan expenditures and development accordingly. It would also free it from both playing politics and being a target of politicians.

Why should we as skeptics care? As skeptics we rely on factual information from a variety of reliable sources. As Canadians we take pride in our culture. This is why we should care…why we should remember when the time comes to elect a Canadian government.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 161 – Budget Busting Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 10, 2012

This week:

–       Largest feathered dinosaur discovered,

–       Donald Trump promoting the anti-vax movement,

–       Passover myths,

–       Cuts to the CBC and

–       How budget austerity hurts skepticism.

Download the episode here!


Paleontologist get their feathers ruffled in a big way!

Ethan takes umbrage at a recent story about the discovery of the largest feathered dinosaur. We talk about how poor science reporting clouds people’s understanding of real science. We also talk about the where and what was discovered and it’s implications.

Find out more:


Trump trumpets anti-vaxism

We talk about the recent verbal diarrhea from professional celebrity Donald Trump where he parrots the bad “science” of the anti-vax movement. We briefly debunk his claims and talk about the added ethical responsibilities of celebrities to ensure they do not harm their followers/fans by what they say.

Find out more:

Passover myths

Don uses the current ‘holiday’ celebration to revisit some of the cultural myths of Passover. We talk about did slaves build the pyramids, where the Jews/Israelites enslaved as a people in Egypt and lastly was the bible god as sadistic to Pharaoh as popular culture (South Park) leads us to believe.

Find out more:

CBC helps promote skepticism

We talk about how the recent budget cuts to the CBC will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a independent news/educational station in Canada.

Find out more:

How austerity in the Harper budget hurts skepticism

We talk about how the recent budget cuts to health, safety and regulatory agencies will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a government…and the agencies that make it up…we can trust. How in cutting funding to things like product/nutritional labeling enforcement makes it harder to have confidence in our food as well as providing fodder to “woo” conspiracy type.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

StatsCan making more data free and online.

In February, Statistics Canada made access to most of its data free, eliminating the previous charge of $3 plus HST for every series.

To let your inner geek or outer cynic free in the data head to CanSim were the data and a tutorial on how to use the site can be found.


Tracking food fraud

Now that the government has abdicated its responsibility to police food labeling, I found a site that may help. It’s a database created by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a non-profit scientific organization that develops standards to help ensure the identity, quality and purity of food ingredients, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals. The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) compendium is a new database which provides baseline information to assist interested parties in assessing the risks of specific products. It includes a total of 1,305 records from scholars, media and the public. The vast majority though, 1,054, are from scholarly research.


Debating euthanasia

CFI Vancouver presents Dying With Dignity debate – featuring Wanda Morrisd

Executive Director of the Dying With Dignity foundation and in opposition to the notion of dying with dignity Dr. Will Johnston, Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, BC.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

7pm at Fletcher Theatre at Harbour Centre, Simon Fraser University

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