Response to Bill C-10 Video

A friend of mine recently posted this video on Facebook. As I am currently boycotting Facebook, I have to bitch about it here:

I’m no fan of minimum sentencing, I think it is a terrible idea. But, that video had some pretty seriously flawed arguments. If people are basing their decision, that Bill C-10 is a bad idea, on the consumption of media such as this video; I’m thinking its time to start looking for a nice place in the mountains to hide until the madness blows over.

Flaws

Comparing cost per capita of school children to cost per capita of prisoners is not even a remotely sensible comparison? Even a cursory bit of thinking would suggest why: we have a lot more students than prisoners; if we have 10 times as many students as prisoners, these costs are actually equivalent. We have a lot more than that. In 2001, Canada had 32,000 people incarcerated,1 I 3000 students in my High School, and at least 10 High Schools in my city.

While schools do have much in common with the prison system, the cost of education must be less than the cost of incarceration. Care of inmates is 24/7, while parents (rightfully so) pick up the tab for much of the care of students. Parents feed and clothe, as well as supply a home for their children. Prisoners require feeding and clothing, activities to keep them fit, and from going insane. All of this does not even take into account the security involved in keeping prisoners in, compared to the security of keeping students in. Of course maintaining prisoners is going to be more expensive.

Further, the video does not take into account the fact that the Federal government is not responsible for education. In Canada, each province is responsible for its own Medical, Educational, and Transportation infrastructure. With this in mind, it is evident that most Federal funding of schools would not be labelled as such. Most funds given to the provinces are given without a specified purpose. It is up to the provinces to determine the best use for those funds, they may allocate it to Medicince, Transportion, and even education. That means that the Federal government is not “not funding schools”, it means they are keeping their noses out of the provinces business. They are indirectly funding education because that is their role. On the flip side, Federal Prisons are a direct responsibility of the Federal government. Of course they are going to spend more on prisons… on paper.

The key is that we know exactly how much the Federal government spends on prisons because that is one of their primary functions. We can’t know how much the Federal government spends on schools, because most of it is undocumented, because they aren’t supposed to be spending any.

What Does it Mean

While I was writing this, The Wife went and looked up some numbers.

In 2007, the provinces spent, on average, $10,000 per year, per student, to get them from Kindergarten through to Graduation. According to the video, the Federal Government spends approximately, $90,000 per year, per prisoner; as well as $8000 per year per student.

Prisoners spend 24 hours, seven days a week behind bars; Given students spend about six hours a day in class, as well as the fact that they do not spend seven days a week in classes we will need to make adjustments to account for the actual contact time during which students and prisoners spend in contact with their facilities.

Students Prisoners
Federal $8,000 $90,000
Provincial $10,000 $0
Contact Hours/Day 6 24
Contact Days/Year 1902 365
Contact Hours/Year 1140 8760
Cost/Hour $15.79 $10.28

Some of my numbers for students are from 2007 (the most recent we could find), I am fairly confident that more (not less) is spent at this time. But this was some quick bar napkin math, please feel free to check my numbers. I still think the point is valid. This is not just a simple question as to whether the Federal Government is has its priorities backwards: based on this assessment, it appears that priority is given to students over prisoners.

Division of Labour

In fact, if one looks at it as a matter of departments, one could ask why the Canadian Government is involved in education at all? It could be argued that the Federal Government is wasting resources by duplicating infrastructure that already exists at the provincial level.

The Provinces are in charge of Medicine, Education, and Transport (the old MET from my school days), they have developed an extensive administration and infrastructure to meet these needs. Having the Federal government involved in education is equivalent to a company having an accounting department undertaking care of marketing, it is a waste of resources. Leave marketting to the marketting department and have the accountants focus on accounting. In this case, the Fed should stay out of education and focus on defense, international relations, and incarceration; its area of expertise.

While this is a bit of a silly argument, it is no sillier than the initial argument in the video.

Who Cares

I recently commented on a Climate Change Editorial for much the same reason. I am concerned with current political debate. It has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with ideology. Every decision made at the political level is a decision on how to use violence. With that in mind, it is very important that the decisions be the correct decisions.

While I do not agree with minimum sentencing, and have several problems with Bill C-10, I do not agree with Straw Man arguments either. It leads to poor decision making, based on ideology rather than calm, factual, analysis. Decisions based on ideology make for inappropriate use of government, and therefore taxpayer, resources.

In the end, ideology makes for poor policy.

 Update: 2012-02-28

Given the debate that followed (with a friend of mine), and the conclusion I ended with, I thought this video that I came across to-day was interesting.


  1. Wikipedia 

  2. excluding Quebec, which was 180 hours. Quebec is always different for some reason or another. 

13 thoughts on “Response to Bill C-10 Video”

  1. Me thinks you underestimate the federal government’s role it education policy. Regardless, the video is certainly over the top, but no more so than the rhetoric coming from the Harper government and it does highlight some key points. What is more important is that there is no evidence that any of the measures called for in C-10 have any demonstrable impact on lowering crime rates. In fact previous examples of these types of legislation have had the opposite effect. I think it is a sad part of reality that people like our government, and yourself in your write up, spend sooo much time focusing on the financial costs of policy (regardless of what it relates to) and so little time considering the human costs. People are more important than dollars least we forget.

  2. If I have underestimated the role the Fed plays in education, then my argument gains more vehemence. As I pointed out, the real problem is that they are involved in education *at all*. I concur that the measures called for in C10 will have a negative impact on crime rates, and have in fact argued for scrapping similar policies in Texas. I agree that people are more important than dollars, and would suggest that people that believe so steer clear of straw man arguments centering around dollars. My statements were not pro-C10, they pointed out the flaws in the straw man argument presented in the video. If C10 will negatively impact crime rates, entering into a flawed discussion of Federal financial priorities detracts from the argument. My concern with the video is not that it is anti-C10 (I am as well), my concern is that the argument is an appeal to emotion and not grounded in solid reasoning. Appeals to Emotion makes for bad policy decisions. Having said that, dollars represent *real* resources, and resources are limited. As the video itself pointed out, the dollars amount to resource allocation, and every resource directed to the justice system (injustice system?) is a resource unavailable to Health Care, Transport, Defense, whatever. In this sense, dollars are not more important than people, they are a store of value and therefore represent human effort… a little slice of a human’s life… they are proxies for people.

  3. In no sense are dollars ever more important than people for the simple reason that without people there would be no dollars. Even if we accept your statement that dollars are a storage device for human effort (which I don’t – dollars represent the preceived value of resources; a preception that is very often totally arbitrary and unrelated to any economic reality) then we had better start thinking about the people as opposed to the balance sheet or there won’t be any people left with the skills to make any more money. In the end I couldn’t care less about what it costs in terms of dollars to keep a kid in school vs. keep a prisoner in jail, but I do care about wasting resources on a crime bill that will at best have negligible impact on crime rates but may very well ccause them to go up when our education and healthcare systems are dying a slow death due to lack of funding.

  4. I think we had best stay on topic and avoid a discussion of money as a proxy for human effort vs raw resources vs the mixture of the two.

    I agree (people vs balance sheets), and this is the very foundation of my argument against this video. It is focused on the dollars when it should be focused on the effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) of the bill in question. I agree that C10 is a bad idea, and will waste valuable mone… time, ingenuity, and labour on something that will have a negative impact and should be scrapped. I disagree about education and healthcare failing due to underfunding. While I am open to the possibility of them being underfunded, I don’t believe any amount of mone… time, ingenuity, or labour, will save them in their current layout…? configuration…? … the problems are systemic and fundamental. In the end *I* think the cost differential between students and inmates is completely immaterial, and that people discussing the issue should stay on topic. One might say: discuss the *issue*.

  5. Right, so if you want to stay focused on the issue why did you spend so much time picking apart a video and the technical operators of its argument instead of just presenting your own take on the issue at hand? Seems to me like you approached the whole thing from a critical consumer of media point of view, which is a totally different topic to any of those that pertain to bill C-10.

  6. Because my issue is that people are off topic. Because people are not being critical in their consumption of media. That was my stated issue from the beginning. That is always my issue. Ideology makes for bad policy. I would rather people made the wrong decisions for the right reasons than just getting lucky. People taking action based on appeals to emotion will result in more failures than successes. Most policy discussions (including the one in this video) are based on little more than “but think of the children”.

    If people are basing their decision, that Bill C-10 is a bad idea, on the consumption of media such as this video; I’m thinking its time to start looking for a nice place in the mountains to hide until the madness blows over.

    I will edit the article to make that a little more clear.

  7. The plight of Western civilization consists precisely in the fact that serious people can resort to such syllogistic artifices without encountering sharp rebuke. There are only two explanations open. Either these self-styled welfare economists are themselves not aware of the logical inadmissibility of their procedure, in which case they lack the indispensable power of reasoning; or they have chosen this mode of arguing purposely in order to find shelter for their fallacies behind a word which is intended beforehand to disarm all opponents. In each case their own acts condemn them.

    — Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (1949)

  8. Dude, if there was a dictionary definition for “missing the point”, a link to this blog might be all that’s needed…

    The video isn’t comparing the cost of education to incarceration head-to-head. It’s just a hook to get people thinking about the upside-down way society is moving…

    I think the video makes a lot of sound arguments about why C-10 is stupid, wasteful, and pandering to the right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that this approach doesn’t work.

    Sure, Texas crime rates really started to fall even before they fully abandoned the tough on crime approach. But they have continued to fall steadily ever since. I agree some of the arguments are simplistic but this is YouTube video, not a 500-page book or a 90 minute documentary.

    After watching this video I hope people will dig in a bit and look up C-10 and see just how devastating it will be, how much it will likely cost (in more ways than one), and oppose it in any way they can.

    If you, on the other hand, want to run for the hills because a YouTube video pissed you off, just don’t do anything to land yourself in jail – I suspect you won’t like it there.

  9. After watching this video, I hope people do not dig into the C-10 issue because one of two things will happen, and neither of them are good.

    Firstly, they may continue to find discussions such as this video, and begin to believe the false arguments presented. People will begin to take action on issues based on lies. The more people are inundated with lies, the harder it is for people to separate the truth from the lies. Historically, it has gone poorly when people do what someone tells them, regardless of the truth.

    Alternately, they may actually discover, and care about the truth. As they see how foolish of arguments the detractors are making they begin to not trust people that are opposed to bill C-10. Rather than listening to people with sound arguments, they will write them off as just another nut-bar. Basically, as an individual that opposes minimum sentencing, I’m asking you to stop helping me!

    As The Wife says, “There is enough wrong with minimum sentencing to scrap it, without having to resort to lies and deceptions.”

  10. politicians rely on misrepresentations to foist badly conceived policies on the electorate. From exaggerating their impact on the nation’s economic performance to periodically pretending to clean up campaign finance, Fridson shows that politicians repeatedly prove themselves to be masters of false advertising.

    –Flyleaf of Unwarranted Intrusions Martin Fridson

  11. And if you look in the dictionary under hyperbole, you picture just might be there…

    Using words like “lies” and “deception” about this video is pointless in my view. The video makes some cogent (if simplistic) arguments about C-10.

    If you can’t see that I suggest you consider one or both of the following options:
    1) pull your head out of Harper’s ass;
    2) stop listening to your wife.

  12. Hmm… I don’t seem to be getting notices when you post. Sorry for the delay.

    1. I don’t see how my disagreeing with bill C-10 puts my head up “Harper’s ass”.
    2. I stand by my wife’s statement: There is plenty enough crap in bill C-10 to scrap it.

    As I have repeatedly stated, my concerns are not for C-10 being a good or bad idea, but instead for people’s ability to think critically about policy issues.

    I will repeat myself “Ideology makes for bad policy”, and assuming I am a Harperite because I dislike this video is falling into the ideology realm, certainly not the critical thinking realm. Frankly, I think your arguments are beginning to support my earlier point regarding “nut-bars”.

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