David Livingstone, of the Centre for the Study of Education and Work, presented at the CSTD conference on a 2004 study that interviewed 9,000 Canadians. One of the findings that I found most interesting was that Canadians have the highest rates of formal learning in the world. A large percentage of our workers have diplomas and degrees. On the other hand, I heard on the radio this morning that there is a productivity gap in this country, and as the Globe & Mail reports:
No one can pinpoint precisely why Canada has fallen behind to such an alarming extent. The explanations range from relatively low investments in technology and equipment to lagging private-sector research and development and the fact that marginal effective tax rates on capital are high. But Mr. Goodale knows the consequences of such dismal numbers.
The truth is that no one really knows, but many lobbyists and special interest groups use these kinds of statistics to further their own agendas. Universities will say that we need greater access to higher education and conservative think tanks will call for more corporate tax cuts. Well there doesn’t appear to be a direct correlation between education and productivity if we examine our credentialed society and our perceived low productivity. In New Brunswick we have the lowest corporate tax rate in the country and one of the highest rates of unemployment. Recently our unemployment rate went up while it dropped everywhere else. So the answers are not simple, as H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
Personally, I’m tired that our politicians and business leaders revert to pat answers for complex problems, such as “we need to raise personal taxes to pay for our social programs”. Perhaps productivity is the wrong measure. John Ralston Saul, in The Collapse of Globalism, states that since the mid-nineteen nineties, “…two-thirds of American corporations paid no federal income tax.” Many of these corporations have branch offices in Canada – same people, same agenda.
As a society we have to understand what is important and how we can make our communities work. That means understanding the complex forces at play. Lowering taxes or decreasing tuition rates are simple solutions that won’t address the root causes. The same goes for understanding how our organisations and businesses work. There are no pat answers and the flavour of the month won’t solve our problems.
Some of the places I visit to get a better view of these issues: