Sense and Nonsense of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

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This past Canada Day, both Ontario and British Columbia joined Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick as the latest provinces to accept the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) system. The HST combines the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) into one, single sales tax. For Ontario and B.C., the tax comes to 13% and 12% respectively.

The reason for harmonization is threefold: (1) To increase investment in provincial businesses, thus making them more competitive, (2) to create more jobs, and (3) to eliminate hidden taxes incurred throughout operational costs. Adopting the HST will also mean that products that were exempt form the PST will now incur the 7/8% “PST” under harmonization, although some products will be exempt altogether. This process of exemption/inclusion, however, is highly arbitrary, and lacks a democratic basis.

Reactions to the HST have been mixed at best. The NDP have roundly condemned the tax, claiming that it is a tax grab that will help provinces accumulate up to 3.5 billion dollars in revenue, the purpose of which is unclear. Public opinion in both Ontario and B.C. have been vastly negative, with estimates of 90% in both provinces against the tax.

The more conservative-minded C. D. Howe Institute has long been advocating for an HST, citing the aforementioned reasons, and claiming that the HST is harmless to average households given that it is “revenue neutral”. However, the most interesting report probably comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think-tank that has done extensive research on the HST, and the role that it is likely to play in Canadian provinces.

The CCPA believes that the HST will hurt modest to middles class income households. Consider that “The BC government is proposing an HST credit of a maximum $230 for individuals with income up to $20,000, and $230 per family member for fami­lies with incomes up to $25,000.” This means that “an individual with $20,000 or less in income would have to spend more than $3,285 per year on the previously ex­empt goods and services listed below in order to be worse off.” These low thresholds may benefit some of the poorest citizens, but middle class families will incur much more tax with the HST.

The CCPA also believe that having increased jobs and business competitiveness as a result of the HST is greatly exaggerated. Cutting operating costs does not necessarily increase investment in businesses, especially when the tactic also includes laying off workers. Rather, investment is based on the future estimations of profits and sales.

It is most important that the revenues incurred with the HST be used for progressive purposes, much like the Scandinavian models. In the Nordic countries, the HST is a progressive tax that helps to build communal infrastructure and social welfare. What Canada intends to do with the HST is still largely opaque. Moreover, the provincial governments should increase the threshold for credit, and decrease it in a slower fashion as incomes increase.


The “Clash of Civilizations”

The so called ‘clash of civilizations’ paradigm coined by Princeton’s Bernard Lewis and expanded by Samuel Huntingdon of Harvard is a myth on all the grounds it claims to occupy. The roots of this family of rationally bizarre and sadly anachronistic ideologies begin quite understandably with a division of the world into Cold War-like ‘clashes’. These clashes are in turn caused by the inherent differences of homogenous and monolithic cultures, which apparently have next to nothing in common, and always stand at odds (in complete separation) over each other.

The old fairy-tale division rings physical detection at the age of 6 for perhaps an ‘average’ human being: the romanticism of east versus west, stemming from (quite obviously) underlying seeds of jingoistic traits. Expansion of such a romanticism and manicuring of its overly forested landscapes of emptiness leads to something that can be perhaps reduced into a sexy intellectual tribalism. The ideologies can all be reduced to a specific set of supposedly smart, pragmatic and hard-hitting policies that must be used for self-preservation. Identifying the enemy as “them” in turn strengthens the identity of “us”, making life much easier and foreign policy more straightforward.

Thus, in his description of how cultures work, Huntingdon desperately and in a fetishistic way clings on to a dual assumption regarding Us and Them. Us, the bearer of values worthy of preservation, and Them, those who seek to corrode such values and implement their own, which really aren’t values—in Our eyes anyway.

It is useful to explore the romanticism of such a profound clash.

It is physically impossible: the citizens of each cultural entity must all harbour hatred for difference, and in their monolithic suppourt allows their governments to unleash their armies and fight until the end of days. There is no room for dissent, no room for protest, and in fact, erases the will of the masses. History shows us that wars are started by powerful policy makers that pursue its prestige, stability, survival, and domination. What lies suppressed and repressed under its propaganda, namely the masses, remain always (in whatever proportions) in ideological difference of these policies. This makes any claim at civilizational war pure bullshit and the wet dream of residual Hitlerian ideologies. Its survival in the public domain as an ideological option is sustained only as stated: an ideology—one with no factual basis. Its existence is created by those in power that see its usage as a necessary mental prescription for its citizens in order to carry out its expansionist policies.

But here lies a devious trap: the propagation and the belief in a clash of civilizations by a certain citizenry (and the media) does not in any way provide suppourt for its factual basis, nor its attempt to exist as a feasible, realistic ideology. The public spreading of the imagery (mainly due to the media, or corporations that work closely with those in power) of the Other, is done subsequently through fear-mongering. This fear is never rational, and always fails to convince the majority of the electorate. And yet, many a time, it has garnered enough suppourters to back the beliefs necessary for policies of power-pursuit and economic expansion. The majority remains mainly asleep, a very useful thing for the powerful since there is less dissent.

The existing resistance (that never fails to exist in every single chapter of history) is mainly based on common sense, augmented by the day to day interactions, and understandings between cultures that share much of the same history. It is quite undeniable now that the world is inhabited by a human race that throughout history has shared the stories of discovery, tragedy and success. Such consistent efforts (conscious or not) of overlap can be seen on levels of intellectual activity, and the most basic of cultural exchanges. Huntingdon conveniently ignores this. Instead, Huntington prescribes international protectionism in the form of geopolitical chess games: play off the Muslim and Confucian (far east cultures) and protect ‘western’ values by allying with the countries that espouse them outside of the United States. The cultures themselves are never the authourities to which Huntington refers to.

Then there is the belief that those in power do in all honesty pursue policies that convey hate for another civilization. If this turns out to be the truth, and hatred is the pursuit of one’s government, then it has solidified the outcome of its efforts as yielding precisely zero pragmatic gain. If a government travels on pure hatred without underlying economic goals, and place the gaining of resources as a bonus, then why bother spending billions on oil pipelines, interim governments and military bases?

It is more and more incredible how even those with the highest of academic positions continuously and seriously speak on behalf of large, abstract entities such as “the West”, or “Muslim culture”. These entities are then used as game pieces in an arena of self-preservation and power. It is as if the entire ‘West’ behaves as one individual, and all one billion or so Muslims is bent on doing two or three things and nothing else.

The clash of civilizations is nothing more than another theory for the justification of international plunder. It is the remnant of the bastardized notions of social Darwinism, the extensions of what Count Gobineau and Renan did to justify their racial theories one hundred and fifty years ago.

Let us ask the following questions*:

  1. How does understanding the world as an arena of clashes lessen conflict?
  2. Doesn’t this paradigm enhance and instigate more national murderousness and pride?
  3. Is it correct and wise to create a simplified map of the world and prescribe it to generals and lawmakers to act on the world?
  4. Does this not prolong and deepen conflict?
  5. Do we want a “clash of civilizations”?

* questions taken from earlier Edward Said lecture