My sister has a theory: every policy initiative is always introduced either too late or too early for her to benefit from it.
It is not so much a theory as an empirical observation. As such, it may reflect bias on the part of the observer. My sister and I are 1/4 Yorkshirewomen, and like the famous Four Yorkshiremen, have strong recollections of all of the hard times we have suffered. Disconfirming instances, such the relatively low university tuition fees we paid back in the 1980s, are readily forgotten.
But, as Stephen Gordon has documented in a previous Yorkshireman post, people like my sister, who were born in the early 1960s, have faced some tough economic times. We entered the labour market at a time of extremely high unemployment. From bursting kindergarten classrooms and overcrowded labour markets to the jam-packed long term care facilities that will await us in our old age, we arrive just as all of the spaces have been taken by older baby-boomers.
Yet it's not obvious why that poor economic luck should translate into political disempowerment. After all, there were lots of people born in the early 1960s. Why don't we lobby governments and get policies enacted that benefit us, instead of hanging around feeling morose and listening to The Smiths, or getting drunk and singing the Brady Bunch theme song?
I have a few theories about why people born in the early 1960s might be less likely to benefit from government programs.
One is the law of large numbers: we're a big generation, so programs that benefit us are expensive.
Another is that our (alleged) lack of success in the labour market translates into lack of political of political influence.
Another more interesting theory is that there are policy cycles. Politicians look ahead, and introduce programs just as they see a wave of people coming who are likely to benefit from them. By the time Generation X rolls around, the program has served its political purpose and is being wound down.
When my sister first articulated her theory, I was skeptical. But going through the various parties' election campaign promises, I cannot find a single one that would provide her with any benefits. What I find truly striking is that the programs that she could have benefitted from are arriving precisely at the point when she is no longer able to take advantage of them.
The Conservative's "tax fairness for families" income splitting policy would have provided my sister with a lot of benefits - but by the time it's in place, it'll be too late. She will no longer have any children under 18. The Liberal's "Canada Learning Passport" which will provide $1,000 per year for students going on to university would have helped her three or four years ago- but her kids are now too old to benefit from it.
There are other programs that won't help her. The Liberal's promised increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors and expansion of the Canada Pension Plan will pass her by - like every good Yorkshirewoman, she's thrifty and saves. The NDP's promise to cap credit card charges at 8% won't benefit her personally either for the same reason.
Policies benefit some people more than others. That fact alone is uninteresting.
What is more interesting is the suggestion of a policy cycle - the introduction of policies just as a large group of potential beneficiaries are on the horizon, and the gradual winding down of such programs when they become too large and too expensive. Is this my sister's imagination, or is this a robust feature of the Canadian political landscape?