THE BLOG

Fracking Causes Gonorrhea (and Other Economic Myths)

12/31/2013 12:32 EST | Updated 03/02/2014 05:59 EST

One benefit of column writing is the chance for feedback from readers, be they fans, critics or the merely curious. Responses arrive that reflect the rainbow of human emotion from cheery agreement, to annoyance, to the equivalent of typed-out road rage.

Much of what I (and my colleagues) do is analyze how politicians spend tax dollars and how governments affect our lives in multiple ways. As a result, any report or column that recommends a change to the status quo is sure to touch someone's interest. Predictably, that touches a nerve and sets off a reaction.

Some responses are thoughtful and others less than enlightening but all are worth a read.

For example, I wrote about the almost three-million government sector employees (83 per cent of them) across Canada who have a defined benefit pension plan. (That's the type with guaranteed levels of payouts in retirement, which create large unfunded liabilities and/or jacked-up contribution rates from taxpayers.) That compares to just 1.5-million private sector workers with such plans, or just 13 per cent of the private sector.

But even though government unions have long had their way with taxpayers, any proposed reforms on compensation generates plenty of heat, though not much light. One lady wrote to tell me how she had been a childcare worker, deserved a guaranteed benefits pension, and that anyone who thought otherwise must not care about children. Another government employee wrote to say his taxpayer-funded pension was evidence of civilized society.

Yet another emailer, a retired government worker, was quite upset about the teasing he received at cocktail parties about his government pension. He then claimed "The majority of Canadians, who are not in the public sector, do nothing in terms of planning or saving for their retirements; they then proceed to bitch and bellyache about those who have."

This emailer also asserted private sector employees possessed a sense of entitlement and should have spent less and saved more, or they should have taken a government job.

Good grief, Charlie Brown. Of course a certain level of government and some government employees are necessary and part of any developed and civilized society. But let's not overstate it shall we? It is a bit narcissistic to equate pension reform for government workers -- say a matching contribution akin to what the Saskatchewan NDP long ago introduced in that province -- with the coming end of civilization.

Some writers were unhappy when I crunched updated numbers on the (forced) 2009 taxpayer bailout for General Motors and Chrysler. I noted $810 million was the loss for the Chrysler loan and $2.8 billion is missing in action on the General Motors loan.

One former mid-level employee at one of those above companies identified the problem in a nice email. He wrote of how, when offered a job again with that particular firm, he said no. He did so in part because when he last worked there, the firm was populated with executives who had a sense of entitlement vis-à-vis consumers, employees, and even taxpayers.

The film sector was unhappy after I pointed out that ever-more film tax credits are just another type of corporate subsidy. Predictable responses arrived in my inbox. They all claimed that the film industry generates extra tax revenues like manna from heaven. That, they all claimed (and contrary to the evidence from impartial observers) balances out the generous taxpayer help in Canadian provinces and American states.

But one correspondent, a film production manager, said this: "You have only touched the edge of this star-struck phenomenon." He then explained how film policy develops, at least in Alberta: "Currently, Alberta film producers advise the government on policy and I liken it to Al Capone advising the government on prohibition."

Fracking was an issue in 2013 and this generated perhaps the most bizarre response.

My colleague Kenneth Green and I wrote about how by approving fracking for oil and gas, some provinces might generate extra dollars for their provincial coffers (Quebec and Atlantic Canada in particular). We also, importantly, noted how risks from fracking are low, this according to U.S. National Academies of Science.

And the response from someone at the Halifax chapter of the Sierra Club? That fracking has caused "a 62 per cent increase in sexually transmitted infections (chlamydia and gonorrhea) in rural communities linked with unconventional resource development."

So fracking for natural gas and oil causes the clap. Who knew?

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