Sunday, July 08, 2012

The $16 orange juice

There has been a growing tendency in all forms of media to regard almost all forms of benefits accruing to those who work in the public sector, either in the political or bureaucratic realm, as a scandalous waste of resources and an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.  Thus we have the $16 orange juice expensed by the now departed Bev Oda deemed to be a critical factor in her expulsion from the Harper cabinet rather than her many other abuses as a minister.  As Calgary Grit noted: "While most will toast Bev Oda’s departure with a $16 glass of orange juice, to me, she’ll always be the Cabinet Minister who doctored government files and got away with it." Elizabeth May also has a good blog post on this topic that focuses on Oda's real sins.

What TC laments is that there is a whole structure of private privilege in the corporate world, most of which has real costs that are borne by taxpayers (through corprate and personal tax deductions) and individuals as citizens (through prices, interest rates, lower returns on pensions, you name it). But we rarely hear about them.

Watch this scene from the 2011 movie Margin Call where the corporate chief executive played by Jeremy Irons treats himself to an expensive meal with a fine bottle of red wine. He is in the fictional company's dining room high atop a New York skyscraper overlooking the city's skyline. The scene is a metaphor but these kinds of perks are real. They do receive some attention from investor watchdog sites. The business magazine Forbes provided a few highlights (or lowlights) in this article. Many are tax-subsidized.

Our perspective on this has become completely lopsided and distorted. Oda stayed at an expensive hotel in London (the Savoy) that she she should not have. But who do you think the hotel serves most of the time: politicians and public servants, or those in the private sector (including celebrities) many of whom will be able to deduct the costs from corporate and personal taxes, or who work for firms such as defence contractors that are lavished with tax dollars?