Fraser Institute poll shows support for socialism

The right-wing Fraser Institute has released a report that shows support for socialism by Canadians.

image: Analytic Steps

Why would the defenders of capitalism and the free market produce a report that shows a preference for socialism?

The Fraser Institute says the report is meant to illustrate the “realities” and “misery” of socialism.

It sounds like a straw-man argument to me: They want to show the popularity of socialism in order to explain how misguided we are.

In their charade, the Fraser Institute goes to considerable lengths.

They show similar positive results for socialism in the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom. Respondents agree that: “transitioning to socialism will improve the economy and well-being of citizens.”

The generational distribution is similar in all four countries, as well, with 18 to 34 year-olds showing the greatest support. And while support is less in older respondents, the poll finds a plurality of Canadians over the age of 55 that would like to see Canada switch to socialism in their lifetimes.

The report is puzzling, too, because “transitioning to socialism” is vague. How would such a transition take place? Where in the world does such a model of socialism exist?

In setting up their elaborate straw-man argument, they have respondents attempt to define what socialism means.

Three models are offered.

The first model received the least support. This is where the state owns the means of production: “the government taking control of companies and industries so that the state rather than individuals control the economy.”

The second model received the most support, where the government provides more services to people.

The third was almost as popular as the second, where the government provides a minimum level of guaranteed income.

As expected, the Fraser Institute asks respondents who should pay for these benefits. As you might guess, we want the rich to pay. “The clear implication is that a large proportion of supporters of socialism . . . want someone else to pay for the associated costs,” they say.

“See, just as we thought,” they might as well be saying, “deluded socialists want benefits but they want someone else to pay for them.”

But the real message of the report is how wide-spread the disillusionment with capitalism is. I think respondents are saying there must be a better way.

Capitalism is going through an especially rough patch now.

Capitalism is typically characterized by boom and bust cycles. During the boom the economy grows, jobs are plentiful and the market brings high returns to investors. In the subsequent bust the economy shrinks, people lose their jobs and investors lose money.

Economists find this current cycle puzzling: Inflation is rising because of excess demand. Banks have increased the lending rate which slowed inflation. But unemployment is low and employers are scrambling to find workers.

“So if unemployment isn’t cooling demand, something else must be,” says business reporter John Rapley, “It could be that it’s time to go back to the drawing board (Globe and Mail Feb. 25, 2023).”

Indeed, it is time to rethink capitalism. The gap between the rich and poor is obscene. Billionaires stride the globe like titans while a billion around the globe live on less than one dollar a day.


One-time handout to the homeless reduces social costs

It may seem counterintuitive to give cash to homeless people. Didn’t their poor money skills get them on the street in the first place?

image: Vintage Fitness

The University of British Columbia decided to find out in an experiment. In cooperation with a charity, Foundations for Social Change, they gave a one-time handout of $7,500 cash to 50 people who been homeless for an average of six months and tracked them over the next year. They also tracked a control group who received no payments. Both groups received counselling.

The homeless group moved into stable housing faster, ate and were clothed better, and even saved $1,000 after a year. They spent 39 per cent less on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

And they reduced the social cost of homeless-shelter services that amounted to $8,100 a year.

The results of the experiment challenge stereotypes of the homeless –that if they just stopped begging on the streets and shooting up toxic drugs, if they got a job and tried harder, they wouldn’t be homeless. But sometimes life delivers hard knocks.

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in you and to trust that you will spend money wisely. If others believe in us, we can believe in ourselves.

As a high school teacher in Electronics and later an instructor at Thompson Rivers University, I’ve found that when you expect students to do well it’s a big motivator.

The same is true for the homeless. Given a hand up can go a long way to restore confidence, empower people to find housing, regain stability, and bring back dignity and a sense of well-being. Cash handouts are not merely a gesture of help. It is a signal that society believes in them.

One participant said: “I had hit rock bottom. You couldn’t get any lower than where I was. I had no hope and then when the money came and I found housing and then daycare it just all kind of came into place. It was so nice, you know?”

The pandemic has made it glaringly clear how cash transfers have kept people out of poverty. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped many but that’s ended, replaced with more targeted programs.

According to a popular pandemic quote: “We’re all in the same storm but not the same boat.” Job losses owing to COVID-19 are heavily skewed toward working-age Canadians at the low end of the income scale – restaurant and hospitality workers, young adults, new immigrants and women.

Charities, such as the food bank, the Mustard Seed and Salvation Army, have a role to play in alleviating suffering. But charity reflects and amplifies the gap between the ones giving and the ones receiving. I feel good when I give to a charity but the imbalance in power is obvious.

If something isn’t done to help Canadians through this crisis while preserving their dignity and confidence to survive; if the gap between the rich and poor increases; we will all be worse off, including the rich.