Stop the Gravy Train! (But only for other people)

Posted on February 18, 2011


Arguing with people on different parts of the political compass can be difficult. Given certain starting assumptions, almost any political ideology is mostly self-consistent. The problem is that any two disputants are likely to have starting assumptions so vastly different that to make any real headway they have to descend into a seemingly pointless argument about the definition of harm, or the harms of definition. I claim this as one reason why my philosophy degree is not totally useless in the real world, but unfortunately most people don’t have time to build up their convictions from first principles every time they get into a political discussion. Political arguments, including those carried out by the spokespeople of major parties, therefore tend to devolve into “Yes it is!”, “No it isn’t!” exchanges including frequent appeals to emotion and ad hominem attacks.

Sometimes, however, fate smiles on you and you encounter a political ideology that is so sublimely stupid that no examination of founding assumptions is necessary because it fails even by its own standards. Unfortunately, sometimes proponents of such ideologies somehow attain actual political power. By now you may have guessed that I am talking about Rob Ford.

A brief review. First: Ford’s rhetoric. It can be pretty well summed up by this quote:

“I’m the only person tough enough to go down to city hall and put an end to the wasteful spending and an end to the gravy train.”

Translation: arts grants, homeless shelters, bike lanes, public transit, and other traditionally liberal causes are wasting taxpayers’ money for silly pet projects. Ford has made good on this rhetoric by slashing budgets across the city and, recently, attacking the livelihoods of unionized civil servants.

Whose votes did this kind of rhetoric garner? It’s no secret that Ford’s support comes almost exclusively from uptown and  Suburban wards, and that his rhetoric and action matches the convictions of these voters at the expense of downtown.

Courtesy of Driving the Porcelain BusFrom Driving the Porcelain Bus

So Ford’s policies of ending the gravy train which funnels taxpayer dollars into useless downtown projects is mainly attractive to voters in the outer limits of Toronto.

The final piece of the puzzle is this Freakonomics Podcast. While not exactly known for their left-wing pinko views, the freakonomics guys take less than twenty minutes to eviscerate Ford’s position. If you’re anything like me, you read blogs on your RSS while walking places and don’t bother to look at media files, but this one really is worth a listen.

(This pause is for you to listen to the podcast)

While Canada does not have a tax deduction for mortgage interest, we do put an enormous amount of public money into building the transportation infrastructure that allows Ford voters to get to work, and have access to basic necessities like food and medical care. It is far more expensive to provide services such as police protection and garbage collection to the suburbs than to downtown, and yet suburban living continues to be aggressively promoted by politicians like Rob Ford. Ford and his constituents rail against the gravy train, when the suburban lifestyle they prefer is the single largest recipient of municipal subsidies! Far be it from me to quote scripture, but Ford and his supporters appear to have a rather large plank in their eye.

This post is largely a rehash of what I wrote in the earlier article linked above, but I thought I should re-state it with the added authority of the Freakonomics podcast. Rob Ford’s and his supporters attack cyclists, environmental artists for having a little straw dipped in the gravy trough while conveniently ignoring their multiple high-volume gravy pumping systems. Arts grants and bike lanes are cheaper then highways and low-density suburban services.