Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stealing, when is it appropriate?

Stealing, when is it appropriate?

We know that stealing people's  personal property, money, ideas and inventions are all illegal where ever you are in the world. But what about stealing a better way to do things? Aren't we always doing that as we grow up? We don't call it stealing, we call it learning since its done with permission or in a free place (through books , Internet, examples of watching others or taking lessons directly). So if we go through life trying to figure out ways to do things better, why is it that governments at all levels don't learn from each other?

I know that everyone has been on a trip and seen something work significantly more efficiently and ask themselves why can't we do this at home; especially in places that many North Americans would not consider as advanced as home. It is a wonderment to me that our governments either have no desire or are stuck with the "not invented here" attitude and cannot see that other parts of the world are making the day to day working grind of life far easier for their citizens.

Now, I am not talking about welfare or political programs, I am talking about all the things that impact our daily lives: Mass transportation, airport efficiency on all levels, refunds on our credit cards, using our mobile phones to purchase items.

Having spent the last week mostly in Scandinavia it has shocked me how smoothly these places run. I will admit that the tax structure here is quite onerous, with a 25%  VAT and a high income tax structure. But man, if we could make things work as well as they do here, it would be awesome.  Why not adopt some of these excellent ideas and i know I would be happy to pay for them.

 The problem as I see it  back home is we have a  pretty high tax structure but our two biggest expenditures health care and education both work poorly, in addition we have very high University fees, our roads are jammed packed , the transit system is left over from early 60's, our waiting times for hospitals are ridiculous and getting through the airport requires a herculean effort of multi hour proportions.

So why don't our governments steal the best ideas from the best in the world in every aspect of health care, education, infrastructure, mass transit and airport efficiency? Surely there has to be some savings in doing things better through efficiency? It would allow "us the people" to have more time to work happier or play which appear to be woefully on the decline. 

Unfortunately we have zero confidence in our governments at any level to manage their way out of a paper bag. We doubt their ability to accomplish something as simple as a train from the airport to the city in any one of our major cities, which btw is a staple in most cities around the world.  Our governments below the federal level are mired in bullshit politics which makes it effectively impossible to actually get something done. Or worse, the projects that do make it to fruition are mediocre, filled with inefficiencies and cost overruns. If you live in Toronto, the project that comes to mind first is the  St Clair street car project.

Seriously, is that the best we have, does anyone actually believe that has improved anybody's life on a daily basis? Of all the things we could have spent over a 160 million on that was the at the top of the pile, really, give me a break...incompetence or stupidity, in either case it's a bad use of our tax dollars. Ask yourself the question, what is first class that your tax dollars are going towards at any level if government??...still thinking?

I know there are lots of things that people in Scandinavia  and other parts of the world admire about our life, but what I am talking about here is the day to day pain in the ass stuff. The stuff that has a huge impact on our frustration and in turn leads to higher anxiety and anger - traffic, poor public transit, dirty streets, etc... A more user pay society is how they manage the vast population in Asia, from higher taxes on cars, a downtown tax and smart cards for everything from parking to mass transit.

  Northern Europe has the most efficient airports I have ever seen in all my travels, from check in, baggage drop off on thru security, polite and efficient...hmmm what an interesting concept. Mass transit, no drivers for the trains, machines at every station that take credit cards and get you from the airports to the center of the cities. I realized this was transit nirvana and instead of the usual daily frustrations that comes with living and working in Toronto I had entered a zen state of bliss. Some might say "ya, that happens when you are on holidays" but I would argue that's a time when inefficiency actually makes you more angry since you have much a short period of time to enjoy.

Now, I  don't want to  be like a friend of mine who says everything is better somewhere else, usually  where he is living at the time. But, what I want to know is why can we not steal the best ideas from places around the world and bring them back to Canada - making all of our cities a melting pot of efficiency in addition to just culturally.

Is that too much to ask for, given all the taxes we pay? Yes, unless we begin to demand it and elect the right people...

P.S. Sometimes life provide bitter sweet irony.  We arrived at Pearson after am 8 hour flight and an aborted landing,  we were met by snarly customs officers at the door of the plane checking everyone's passports. Followed by the long long walk since none of the moving sidewalks were working, only to be capped off by all the screens showing where your bags were to come we're not working.

Life is always better than fiction, welcome

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