The Tale Of One Red Cent

Hey, remember when we all figured out that Sarah Palin really wasn’t the slightest bit interested in running for public office? That she just wanted to fleece credulous Tea Partiers by pretending to want to Save America?

This is kind of like that, but with the penny.

…So the Government of Canada decides to do away with the penny, and the way they do it is this: they just stop minting pennies. From now on, puchases that result in penny-sized change are to be rounded up or down to the nearest nickel, and both ways being reasonably equal in their occurrence it all evens out over time.

BUT. Here is where the overall philosophy of government held by the Party of Stephen Harper, the Parti Albertois, the Big Oil Party, gets thrown neatly into a nutshell for us: once they’ve stopped the minting of pennies, and established the guidelines for rounding up and down…

Then they book off for the day. And every organization with a cashier makes up its own policies about taking pennies and giving them back, every company takes a greater or lesser amount of time to revamp their POS systems, receipts sometimes say what’s happened to your money and sometimes they don’t, and everything is just left to cook down willy-nilly. The B.C. government liquor stores, so I’ve been told, intend to distribute pennies back to the public until the end of time; McDonald’s (it will surprise future anthropologists, but it doesn’t surprise us — since we know that McDonald’s restaurants have functioned as shadow public buildings for at least a decade now, as governments dispense with money for public housing and facilities and care) had their ducks all in a row months ago, fully ready to accept pennies as legal tender while also not redistributing them to their customers as change…

And between these two poles, every other imaginable approach, doubtless up to and including unscrupulous business-owners who suck a little free cash out of the rounding differential, by rounding one way but not the other. As well, I don’t know much about how credit card companies work, nor about who it is that makes and distributes POS terminals and systems, but I think in either case it’s a matter of scale that makes it so credit card and debit card transactions apparently must continue to be calculated to the penny…ha, no word yet on the chequing system previously known as the M1 money supply…thus necessitating a system in which there are (at least temporarily) two kingdoms of money, the virtual and the physical…

…And, you know, even though the convention is to purchase many items in one buying-action, and even though the convention is to pay in a single manner when one is paying…and even though in every single purchase the wiggle room only amounts to two pennies on either side, still if one were sufficiently enterprising one could easily wring ten bucks a week out of that differential, too, and with modern telegizmo tools one could even come close to automating the process…not that it really, really, really matters, but…

It shows a certain kind of pattern of intention, on the part of the government; and it shows it in an unusually down-to-earth and tangible way. As I’ve said before, this isn’t your father’s Tory party (meaning: if you’re my father it isn’t your Tory party), regardless of how many people in Southern Ontario or indeed my own family were fooled by the similar name…and the old Progressive Conservative party’s actually very great interest in governing just doesn’t line up at all with the carpetbaggers that Peter MacKay sold the name to, because this bunch is primarily interested in getting out of the business of government. They don’t want to regulate, and they don’t want to inspect; they don’t want to research and they don’t want to take advice, they just want to sell all the old stock in the family business and liquidate the place, because they’re not interested in running it anymore. Parliament itself doesn’t interest them; for them the rule of law is something you only have to respect when you can’t get around it. This last may seem like hyperbole on my part, but if you think about it for a minute it’s true: we’re talking about a government who doesn’t see the need to change laws that we all know they could change if they wanted to anyway, and no one could stop them, so why don’t they just act like they’ve already passed those changes, to save time? And then if there’s a big fuss they can always change them later. And: jeepers, no wonder they were our first government ever to be held in contempt of Parliament!

When it was just a simple matter of reciprocation, really.

All in the name of efficiency, at least that’s what they all claim. Ah, efficiency, efficiency…one can have so much of it that it isn’t even efficient anymore, did you know? Because it fails to create any effects: the pond of day-to-day government lying still, without a ripple being made or felt. Down in the States, there’s this curious new mutation of the filibuster, where nobody actually has to perform the filibuster, but only promise that they will — hence the sudden shock of Rand Paul actually bothering to mount one recently! — and no doubt Goldman Sachs is even now preparing to bundle up junk filibusters and sell them on at a Triple-A bond rating, and that’s pretty bad, but in Canada things are going exactly the opposite way, where the government doesn’t bother to dot the i and cross the t of legislative action itself anymore, simply because they could do it, so why should they bother with it? Well, if you wanted to lay it all at the feet of Harvard Business School you wouldn’t be completely off the target: because this is a climate in which (have you noticed?) every CBA negotiation begins with a lockout first…so unions never even get the opportunity to strike, you see?

I mean, who makes concessions to come back to the negotiating table, just to leave it again?

And then down the road the lockout is inevitably flywheeled, by presenting a loss of revenue on paper that justifies a newer and tougher round of negotiations, on and on, in an ever-shrinking circle. Not unlike a sphincter. And sure, in the long term this erodes your business’ economic foundations, but in the short term it makes money, and if the federal government doesn’t care about acting as an impartial arbiter — if, for example, it announces it is readying back-to-work legislation for unions who have not even taken a strike vote yet — then there’s nothing to stop the cycle. In my country, our long period of labour peace is finally going, going, and GONE, after about thirty years of being nibbled away at, and it isn’t because we’ve never had a government authoritarian enough to get rid of it ’til now, it’s because we’ve never had one that cared so little about whether it was there or not

So whatever they’re for, they’re only for it on a strictly temporary basis; what’s more telling about them is what they are not for. Sure, they’ll give the Provinces money for administering health care, but once the money’s given that’s where their job ends…the principles of universality in the Canada Health Act are still there, but don’t ask the government to enforce them! And if you run an airline, you can apply the aircraft maintenance standards yourself…if you’re a food company, just mail us in the results of your own in-house inspections and we’ll definitely, definitely file them for you…and if you’re a mining company concerned about meeting the requirements of environmental regulation, well…

Hey, who’s in a better position to act as steward to the environment that the folks who are down there on the ground, am I right?

And so many more examples that I don’t think I could list them all, indeed the only way all these things are even capable of being done is by passing omnibus bills that embed all the preconditions for ’em deep in the fine print of several thousand pages. You couldn’t even pass these things any other way! You’d be here all night.

All night!

Doing your, y’know, job.

So you just don’t do it; you leave it up to other people. Let them figure it out!

Let them put in the overtime on it!

And such is the general miasma of apathy in Canada, that they pretty much do. These matters are so abstract and nebulous, really: a lot of fancy legal words on paper. Who wants to bother interpreting them finely? Who wants the bother of linking up causes and effects that the government itself hasn’t bothered to connect? Ah, but the penny, the penny…that’s a different story.

Because you can see the penny!

And, now, you can get stuck with it. Down at the corner store, you’ve got a new job to do besides “buying shit” — you’re now a Cashier Supervisor, too. Think Harper or Flaherty stand there wondering if they’ve got the right change, wondering what this store’s policy is, wondering whether to ask? When they buy their coffee at the Starbucks, are they discomfited by how the person at the counter tells them something totally different from what the official Starbucks policy notice sitting at their elbow announces? It’s all doing better than “breaking even in the long term”, for them!

They get to knock off early!

And leave the penny-hassles to the little people.

Except, obviously, it isn’t really just the penny that we’re talking about, is it?

Look out, folks! The invisible hand of the market is in your pocket, know what I mean?


3 responses to “The Tale Of One Red Cent

  1. One minor correction: the virtual filibuster isn’t really a curious new mutation — the rule allowing a so-called filibuster to be announced while Senate business continued uninterrupted was introduced back in 1975. However, its use exploded over the past dozen years, to the point where people finally noticed it and wondered “how long has this been been going on?”

    Harry Reid started the current session with a lot of big talk about fixing the rules to eliminate the 38 year old practice and force Senators to put some effort into it again. Then he decided, nah, not interested, too much trouble, sounds like a lot of work. Rand Paul, who is about as interested in governing as Sarah Palin, saw a great opportunity for a fundraising stunt cloaked in sanctimonious talk about things that don’t really bother him THAT much, and went for the opening.

  2. Oh my goodness! That makes so much sense, that the promissory filibuster came out of a rule change from decades ago, that’s only now being abused! Perhaps inevitably, in a post-Enron world…

    The “too much trouble” thing makes me queasy, here, for sure: maybe the promissory filibuster is now doing no more than it ever promised, by making government easier indeed…smoother, faster, without all that bother, and it must be a lot easier to say you hold certain convictions, when all the excuse you need to throw up your hands is for someone one the other side of the aisle to say “if you did it, we would filibuster it”…so then you can say “hey, I believe in this, but it’s already a non-starter, and not my fault that I’m now going to do nothing…”

    Must dash, other peoples’ schedules to keep! But oh my goodness, how interesting that is!

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