Debt ensnares

Leading in the polls and likely to form the next government, the UCP is marketing the mantra, ‘we’re poor’. In first-world terms, one could argue New Brunswick, northern First Nation communities or, say, Louisiana and Mississippi are poor but definitely, that term does not apply to Alberta.

However, it’s true we’re poorer than we should be and not because Rachel Notley has been premier for four years. It’s taken a lot longer than that to get Alberta and Albertans into our current mess.

The provincial debt is reasonable as the debt to GDP ratio is extremely low and very affordable. Political leaders who incessantly talk provincial or national debt are just throwing a red herring out to distract the electorate from the real reason why citizens feel poor and are poorer.

The high levels of personal consumer debt, student loan debt and municipal debt are the three kingpins that make Albertans poorer.

We would be in great shape if only our personal debt and municipal debt were as healthy as our provincial and national debts.

Personal debt unsuspectedly has been the economic driver of our economy for decades, but many people are now at the end of their credit rope.

The excessive student debt levels are a direct outcome from government abandonment of education.

Governments made matters even worse for graduates when they privatized student loans, turning it over to profit-taking banks.

These were unconscionable acts against the future of tomorrow. Young people are the ones who should become the next consumers of new homes and big-ticket items, yet are hamstrung by student and consumer debt.

Real estate brokers and banks want governments to drop minimum borrowing restrictions on home purchases, but that too only helps banks and real estate companies.

‘House poor’ young families lose hope, lose out on many life experiences and jeopardize their future financial stability.

Neo-liberal policies of the UCP demote public education and health care to an expense budget line rather than understanding it’s an investment in the future of a society.

An often unrecognized consequence of student debt is the trend for students to avoid careers that add to civil society—the Armed Forces, social work, engineering, the civil service, policing, the arts, education and health care—and migrate exponentially towards employment in the self-serving financial sector with huge salaries and bonuses.

Finally, there is the problem of large municipal debt. Municipalities are at the bottom of the tax-revenue generating pyramid. They have not been able to sustain reasonable services at the local level without huge debt.

Their one source of revenue, the private property owner, takes the financial hit so provincial and federal governments can brag about their balanced books.

We need leadership that will return to policies that uphold free enterprise, private property rights and restrain the monetization of the common good.

Neo-liberals like Jason Kenney believe the market is the Holy Grail but if looked at objectively over the last 39 years, it has failed the middle class miserably.

Alberta is poorer because provincially we’ve mismanaged our wealth and failed to diversify our economy.

Ironically, since 1971, all except four years were under the governance of supposedly business-savvy Conservatives.

Individuals are poorer because we’ve been snookered into becoming consumers, not citizens. Consequently, we have inadvertently given up on the common good, amassed unsustainable debt and, just maybe—we’ve become a bit too entitled.

 

Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

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