Quotulatiousness

November 10, 2017

The future of the Royal Marines

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A few months back, Sir Humphrey took a look at the British Royal Marines and suggested that they need to “re-marinize” to avoid just being light infantry that wear a different cap badge:

HMS Albion conducts amphibious operations with Landing Craft Utility (LCU) during Exercise Grey Heron off the coast of Portsmouth in 2007.
The Albion Class, Landing Platform Dock ships (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force.
(Photo via Wikimedia)

The challenge for the Royal Marines [RM] right now is that they look particularly vulnerable targets, with a highly specialised core role that is increasingly unlikely to be used in anger. The RM and the RN [Royal Navy] have long had a slightly odd, and at times, uneasy relationship. It is often forgotten these days that the role of amphibious warfare isn’t something that really took off until WW2, and that the RM have only been leading on it for about 70 years. Until that point they were arguably merely light infantry embarked on ships and the odd landing party.

[…]

The key point where things began to change was arguably OP HERRICK. At this point the Corps transitioned from being an organisation which fought from the sea onto the land, to one that spent many years focusing on being a land based warfighting force. The depth of commitment to HERRICK meant that the Corps lost a lot of its links to the wider RN; speaking to friends who served in the RM, many remark that during the HERRICK years the RM did very little with the RN at sea. This would have been fine for a short operation, but for a multi-year commitment it meant that an entire generation of Officers and NCOs were growing up who excelled at conventional land warfare, but who had lost touch with their maritime roots.

At the same time, there was a growing sense in some parts of the RN that the RM was arguably a money pit that cost the RN a significant amount of time, money and platforms, but which delivered very little for the RN itself. Tellingly, during the worst years of the piracy issues in Somalia, the RN had to rely heavily on RNR ratings to form ships protection teams, not RM in part reportedly because the RM was so focused on Afghanistan. At a time when the RN was taking heavy cuts to ships and other platforms as part of budget reductions to help deliver success in Afghanistan, there was perhaps some resentment that the Corps delivered little, yet absorbed a huge amount of the Naval Service budget. What is the point of having an amphibious fleet, and maritime amphibious helicopter capability, if your amphibious troops are stuck in a cycle of deploying only to a landlocked country?

[…]

In the current security environment that the UK faces, it is hard to see a need for a major amphibious lift capability to conduct opposed operations. This may sound like heresy to say, but if you consider that any major beach landing would be fraught with risk, and require major military support and logistical access to a port and airhead quickly to succeed, it is hard to see the circumstances where the UK and US would want to conduct such an operation. The political circumstances are such, that it is difficult to see the UK willingly wishing to indulge in a full scale amphibious assault against a hostile nation with a brigade sized force anytime in the future.

There are plenty of situations where the ability to transport equipment and people is vital – for instance conducting a NEO [Noncombatant Evacuation Operation], or moving troops and supplies into a friendly country ahead of a wider land conflict. There are also circumstances where an ‘amphibious raid’ capability is equally important – the ability to quickly send a small number of troops ashore via helicopter or fast landing craft to conduct a specific mission, or diversionary raid is extremely useful.

[…]

For the RM, the chance to re-embark at sea and focus on maritime counter piracy and security could be an opportunity to rebrand and reinvent the organisation, giving it a new lease of life. There is a real and pressing need to marinize the RM again, getting them used to being at sea, not permanently working ashore. At the same time it would free up a lot of highly trained infantry soldiers who could train to deliver boarding teams, and maritime counter piracy duties. This is a deeply complex role that requires a lot of training and support to get right, and is only going to grow in importance over the next few years.

Investing in niche roles such as this, or protection of nuclear weapons, and coupling this with a smaller ability to land raiding parties not brigades has the benefit of making the Corps far more valuable to keep in the long term. Right now it is arguably a light infantry brigade which has some other secondary duties tagged on the side. This is fine, but there are plenty of light infantry brigades out there, and probably too many soldiers in the Army as it is. If the RM were to refocus onto being sea going soldiers again, and deliver a small range of capabilities very well, then this makes them far harder to scrap entirely.

October 28, 2017

QotD: Special forces are not a “cheaper” alternative to large, conventional forces

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Special Forces are a good tool, and an old one … their origins go all the way back to colonial (mid 18th century) North America when units like Butler’s Rangers and Rogers’ Rangers were formed. The British kept skirmishing troops alive in the form of The Rifles (heirs to the traditions of numerous, famous “rifle” and “light infantry” regiments) and many 21st century Canadian regiments still bear similar titles. Special Forces had a rebirth of sort in World War II when the British made raiding and commando operations into an important tool ~ because they, the Brits, did not have the resources to take the fight to the Germans in Europe in 1941 and ’42. Modern history is full of raiding exploits from Entebbe to the killing of Osama bin Laden and it all encourages penny pinching politicians to believe, incorrectly, that a few Special Forces soldiers can replace battalions and brigades … they cannot, they do not: they are (relatively) narrow specialists who do a few, small things very, very well but cannot conduct major combat operations or even their own specialized tasks for anything like a sustained period.

Canada needs some Special Forces ~ maybe 2,500 is the right number, I do not know. But good Special Forces are always drawn from a large pool of tough, superbly disciplined, well trained sailors, soldiers and aviators. If the government wants to use more and more Special Forces in a variety of roles then it needs, above all, to maintain a large enough, high quality base from which to create and sustain them. Special Forces are part of a modern, combat capable (and, therefore, expensive) military … they are not a low cost replacement for it, no matter what the Liberal Party of Canada might want.

Ted Campbell, “Special Forces”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2017-10-16.

October 27, 2017

The ever-shrinking Royal Navy

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Register, Gareth Corfield suggests that the Ministry is considering flogging off more RN ships to South America to try to balance the budget:

UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has denied that vital British warships may be quietly sold to South American nations as part of the ongoing defence review, according to reports.

Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, already earmarked for sale to Brazil when she is withdrawn from the Royal Navy next year, may be joined by Type 23 frigates, according to respected defence industry magazine Jane’s.

The Type 23s are the backbone of the Royal Navy’s anti-surface and anti-submarine capability. They are the fighting teeth of the RN, used to ward off potentially hostile surface ships and submarines alike.

Current plans are for the new Type 26 frigate to replace the ageing but capable Type 23s. These new ships are set to enter service from the middle of the next decade, with the old leaving service on the (approximate) basis of “one in, one out”.

HMS Albion conducts amphibious operations with Landing Craft Utility (LCU) during Exercise Grey Heron off the coast of Portsmouth in 2007.
The Albion Class, Landing Platform Dock ships (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force.
(Photo via Wikimedia)

Two crucial amphibious warships, HMSes Albion and Bulwark, are rumoured to be on the chopping block of current defence cuts. Without these two ships, the Royal Navy cannot carry out amphibious landings, in the sense of “put Royal Marines in smaller boats that they can sail to beaches”. Both ships (only one is in service at any one time because we have neither the money nor manpower to run both at once) are fitted with big ramps and well docks allowing troops and vehicles aboard to be quickly loaded into landing craft.

Without its amphibious landing capability, the UK would not have been able to take the Falkland Islands back from Argentinian invaders after the 1982 invasion.

October 18, 2017

“Obama is actually the most conservative President since World War II”

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Dan Mitchell does some statistical legerdemain to calculate US government spending increases by presidential terms in office and discovers some surprising results:

I’ve learned that it’s more important to pay attention to hard numbers rather than political rhetoric. Republicans, for instance, love to beat their chests about spending restraint, but I never believe them without first checking the numbers. Likewise, Democrats have a reputation as big spenders, but we occasionally get some surprising results when they’re in charge.

President Obama was especially hard to categorize. Republicans automatically assume he was profligate because he started his tenure with a Keynesian spending binge and the Obamacare entitlement. But after a few years in office, some were arguing he was the most frugal president of modern times.

  • So I crunched the data in 2012 and discovered that he was either a big spender or a closet Reaganite depending on how the numbers were sliced.
  • I then re-calculated the budget numbers in 2013 and found that spending grew at a slower rate the longer Obama was in office.
  • And when I did the same exercise in 2014, using another year of data, Obama looked even more like a tight-fisted fiscal conservative.

Or, to be more accurate, what I basically discovered is that debt limit fights, sequestration, and government shutdowns were actually very effective. Indeed, the United States enjoyed a de facto spending freeze between 2009 and 2014, leading to the biggest five-year reduction in the burden of federal spending since the end of World War II. And it’s unclear that Obama deserves any of the credit since he was on the wrong side of those battles.

Anyhow, I’ve decided to update the numbers now that we have 8 years of data for Obama’s two terms.

But first, a brief digression on methodology: All the numbers you’re about to see have been adjusted for inflation, so these are apples-to-apples comparisons. Moreover, all my calculations are designed to show average annual increases. I also made sure that the “stimulus” spending that took place in the 2009 fiscal year was included in Obama’s totals, even though that fiscal year began (on October 1, 2008) while Bush was President.

Lots of links in the original post that I’m too lazy to re-link, so go read the whole thing. H/T to Rafe Champion for the link.

October 14, 2017

It’s not the actual dollar amount wasted, it’s what it reveals about the federal government

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh, giving full credit for the scoop to Tom Korski, on the minor-but-revealing way the federal government treats taxpayer money:

Even as I summarize this news, I can see the potential for various kinds of carping from ad men or illustrators who don’t want their oxen gored. “Sigh, this is just business as usual.” Like hell it is: under the Conservatives the finance department used plain covers or inexpensive stock photos for the budget. This is exclusively Liberal tomfoolery.

“Okay, but the cost is perfectly reasonable for what we got!” Two hundred thou for one document, huh? Try that one out on a newspaper art director. Try it out on anyone who ever worked for a magazine, particularly one with newsstand sales that actually depended on a fancy cover.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Even if it’s a bit ridiculous, it’s ONLY $200,000 against a background of billions.” But is it? To me this is the most intriguing part of all. Blacklock’s quotes an e-mail (“It’s fresh. I love where this is going”) from someone who has the title “senior marketing advisor for the finance department”.

Am I the only one left asking, “Why the hell does the federal finance department need a marketing advisor?” The “senior” part denotes a six-figure salary, none of which is included in the cheque that was written to the nice creatives at McCann. Is the finance department a business whose revenues depend on effective advertising? Does Canada’s federal government have several finance departments contending with each other for market share?

[…]

This is the sort of use of public funds for essentially partisan purposes that we can’t throw anybody in jail for, except in my daydreams. Blacklock’s uncovered e-mails make this positively explicit: in arguing over the 2016 budget cover someone observed that, “Justin Trudeau’s election mantra was all about positivity, change, and optimism for the future. We want this budget cover to illustrate that feeling.” I would say this utterance is not quite in the tradition of our public service, except for my fear that it is a perfect expression of the real tradition.

July 20, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illinois Budget is a Mess

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 Jul 2017

This week on Words & Numbers, Antony Davies​ and James R. Harrigan​ tackle the disaster that is the Illinois state budget crisis.

Pro-tip: Don’t let it happen to your state.

July 6, 2017

British tram-train project is already 500% over budget and years late

Filed under: Britain, Government, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It was decided, at some point, to spend £15m to build a hybrid rail connection between Sheffield and Rotherham. It’s late (not too surprising) and over-budget (also not too surprising). What is surprising is just how far over-budget the project has gone: that initial £15m budget has now grown to an estimated £75m, and there may be no end in sight. Hannah Boland reports for the Telegraph:

Artist’s conception of the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train. (Railway-Technology.com)

Transport company Stagecoach has won £2.5m in compensation from the Government after the completion date for the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train project, for which it is supplying vehicles, was pushed back multiple times.

The National Audit Office (NAO), in a report released on Tuesday, said Stagecoach had claimed “prologation costs” and loss of revenue for the two-and-a-half-year delay of the government-sponsored project.

The scheme was approved in 2012, aimed at modifying train and tram infrastructure and buying vehicles capable of operating on both networks.

The Department for Transport had originally said it would be completed by December 2015, and would cut transport costs in the region.

However, Network Rail, which is undertaking the first stage of development, pushed back the deadline, first in 2014 and then in 2016, to May 2018.

The £15m budget originally agreed between the department and Network Rail has rocketed to £75.1m.

Tim Worstall offers some comments:

We hear ever louder cries, in both the UK and US, that government really must get on with spending billions, trillions even, on building out vital infrastructure — the problem with this being that government isn’t very good at building infrastructure. In fact, government is so bad at building infrastructure that there is a very strong argument to have it built by private economic actors. Yes, true, it’s entirely possible that the plutocrats will then profit from the public, even that only projects which make a profit get built, but we would have, given government’s record, more infrastructure for less money.

At least, that’s the lesson to take from this disaster with the Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train project. It is currently an alarming 5 times over budget and horribly late. Further, at this price it should never have been built. It is simply not possible that the value in use of this will exceed the costs of doing it — this is something which makes us all poorer […]

And here is in fact that cost benefit ratio [PDF]:

    1.0 the benefit–cost ratio for the programme when it was approved
    in May 2012. The business case was based on benefits to local
    transport users. The Department approved the project on the basis
    of the ‘strategic’ business case. Wider industry and economic
    benefits were considered ‘very uncertain’

    0.31 the Department’s estimated benefit–cost ratio – based on the
    local public transport case – as at October 2016

For any project, however funded and whatever it is, we need to have benefits higher than costs. This is simply because economic resources are scarce therefore we need to use them to add value. We have here a project where the benefits are one third of the costs — this is something which makes us all poorer. It should not be done therefore. And even after it was started once this fact became known it should have been stopped.

But it wasn’t stopped, of course:

It wasn’t cancelled for political reasons. It was felt that cancellation would lead to “reputational damage.” The way to read that being that once government has decided to do something not splurging the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave might call into question the right of government to splurge the taxpayers’ money like a sailor on shore leave.

June 9, 2017

The new Canadian defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Unlike all the other issues that might have moved the Canadian government to finally address the weaknesses of the Canadian Armed Forces (including the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the high-tempo troop deployments to Afghanistan, escalating tensions in Ukraine and eastern Europe, and the rather embarrassing ongoing rusting-out of the RCN’s ships), Donald Trump appears to have been the trigger … and the first visible result (after Chrystia Freeland’s rather … muscular speech the other day) is the publication of Strong, Secure, Engaged [PDF].

It certainly says a lot of the right things, from personnel to equipment to training and deployment, but as always with a big government announcement, the devil will be in the details. From Defence minister Harjit Sajjan’s introduction:

The pages that follow detail a new vision for the Defence team for the coming decades. It is about our contribution to a Canada that is strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world. In a rapidly changing and less predictable world, we recognize that the distinction between domestic and international threats is becoming less relevant. Therefore, we cannot be strong at home unless we are also engaged in the world.

The policy also includes a new framework for how we will implement that vision. “Anticipate, Adapt and Act,” sets out a way of operating that addresses the challenges we face today, and the ones that will emerge tomorrow.

Canadians take pride in their Armed Forces, and its members serve their country admirably every day. Whether it is responding to natural disasters, providing expert search and rescue, defending our sovereignty, or contributing to greater peace and security in the world, our military answers the call wherever and whenever it occurs

So, along with all the verbiage, what is the new policy going to mean for the Canadian Forces?

This is the most rigorously costed Canadian defence policy ever developed. It is transparent and fully funded. To meet Canada’s defence needs at home and abroad, the Government will grow defence spending over the next 10 years from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27.

(more…)

June 7, 2017

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

That’s Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with a statement that would cause the late Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau to throw her out of cabinet … because Canada has been relying solely on the US security umbrella since shortly after the elder Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968. The interesting thing is that the federal government is reportedly going to announce significant new funds for the Canadian Forces in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa will forge its own path on the world stage because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.

In a major speech setting the stage for Wednesday’s release of a new multibillion-dollar blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces, Ms. Freeland rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and its dismissal of free trade, global warming and the value of Western alliances in countering Russian adventurism and the Islamic State.

While she did not mention the U.S. President by name, Ms. Freeland expressed deep concern about the desire of many American voters to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

[…]

Ms. Freeland said Canada has been able to count on the powerful U.S. military to provide a protective shield since the end of the Second World War, but the United States’ turn inwards requires a new Canadian approach to defend liberal democracies.

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” she said. “To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power.”

Giving Canada’s military “hard power” will allow it to meet global challenges, she said, listing North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Baltic states and climate change as major threats to the world order.

“We will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing – with new equipment, training, resources and consistent and predictable funding,” she said.

Wednesday’s defence-policy review is expected to lay out the military’s priorities for future overseas deployments, and outline Ottawa’s 20-year plan for spending billions of dollars to upgrade warships and fighter jets, among other things.

Amazing. I didn’t think it would fall to Freeland to announce that we’re planning to stop being freeloaders on the US military…

April 19, 2017

A graphical representation of the difference between the US federal deficit and the debt

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In USA Today, Jon Gabriel shows why it’s important to know the difference between a deficit and a debt, especially when discussing the US federal government:

It’s an imperfect analogy, but imagine the green is your salary, the yellow is the amount you’re spending over your salary, and the red is your credit card statement. Then tell your spouse, “Don’t worry, dear, I just increased our debt ceiling with a new Visa card!”

The chart is brutally bipartisan. Debt increased under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. It increased under Democratic congresses and Republican congresses. In war and in peace, in boom times and in busts, after tax hikes and tax cuts, the Potomac flowed ever deeper with red ink.

Our leaders like to talk about sustainability. Forget sustainable — how is this sane?

Yet when any politician hesitates before increasing spending, he’s portrayed as a madman. When Paul Ryan, R–Wis., offered a thoughtful plan to reduce the debt over decades, he was pushing grannies into the Grand Canyon and pantsing park rangers on the way out.

I’m sure that my chart will be criticized. A few on the right will say it’s too tough on the GOP while those on the left will claim it doesn’t matter or it’s all a big lie.

Wonks will say the chart should be weighted for this variable and have lines showing that trend. All are free to create their own charts to better fit their narrative, and I’m sure they will. But the numbers shown can’t be spun by either side.

All the figures come directly from the federal government, and math doesn’t care about fairness or good intentions. Spending vastly more than you have, decade after decade, is foolish when done by a Republican or a Democrat. Two plus two doesn’t equal 33.2317 after you factor in a secret “social justice” multiplier.

And my chart doesn’t mention future projections due to exploding entitlements, which Trump didn’t touch. Turn to the much scarier Congressional Budget Office chart for that.

March 30, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Arts Will Survive Without Your Taxes

Filed under: Economics, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 29 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony experiment with a slightly longer format, and get into the issue of government funding for the arts.

March 16, 2017

Words & Numbers: Blocked by a State’s Wall of Taxes

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony discuss the case of Connecticut’s budget shortfall. The state hopes to solve their financial problems by raiding the retirement accounts of previous Connecticut government employees who have moved out of the state, and take 30% of those savings. This plan would hurt retirees, break promises, and trap many people in the state based on a policy that may be illegal.

February 7, 2017

Mad Dog’s plan to fix the US military

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Donovan linked to this Forbes article, saying “This fixes ‘stuff’. It doesn’t fix the GO corps, nor fix the lost institutional knowledge won over decades. But, every journey begins with a single step. And I await (I have no doubt it’s forthcoming, in due course) the plan to fix our inarticulate strategic malaise.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has issued his initial campaign plan for rebuilding America’s military, pursuant to a presidential directive signed January 27. If Congress provides necessary funding, the Mattis plan would reverse a steady erosion of the joint force’s warfighting edge that resulted from caps on military spending during the Obama years. In fact, the plan may usher in a surge of spending on new military technology unlike anything seen since the Reagan years.

All four of the military services General Mattis oversees would get a boost, but the biggest beneficiary during President Trump’s tenure will be the service that is currently in the direst straits — the Army. That’s because the fixes the Army needs can be implemented more quickly than expanding the Navy’s fleet or fielding a new Air Force bomber. In fact, making the Army healthy again could be largely accomplished during Trump’s first term — which is a good thing since it is pivotal to deterring East-West war in Europe.

[…]

The Mattis campaign plan consists of three steps, aimed at quickly closing readiness gaps and then building up capability. Like I said, the Army benefits most in the near term because what it needs can be fielded fairly fast. Step One in the Mattis plan is to deliver to the White House by March 1 proposed changes to the 2017 budget fixing readiness shortfalls across the joint force. Readiness includes everything from training to maintenance to munitions stocks.

Step Two, delivered to the White House by May 1, would rewrite the 2018 military spending request for the fiscal year beginning October 1 to buy more munitions, invest in critical enablers, grow the size of the force, and fund demonstration of new capabilities. Step Three, based on a revised national defense strategy, would lay out a comprehensive military modernization program for the years 2019-2023. The revised strategy would include a new “force sizing construct” that would boost the size of all the services, but especially the Army.

It’s odd to hear the world’s largest and most capable military power being described in terms that would more accurately describe, say, the Canadian Army: “So if Congress goes along, the Mattis campaign plan is eminently feasible, and the U.S. Army in particular can be brought back from the brink.”

January 26, 2017

QotD: Why government intervention usually fails

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We saw in an earlier story that the government is trying to tighten regulations on private company cyber security practices at the same time its own network security practices have been shown to be a joke. In finance, it can never balance a budget and uses accounting techniques that would get most companies thrown in jail. It almost never fully funds its pensions. Anything it does is generally done more expensively than would be the same task undertaken privately. Its various sites are among the worst superfund environmental messes. Almost all the current threats to water quality in rivers and oceans comes from municipal sewage plants. The government’s Philadelphia naval yard single-handedly accounts for a huge number of the worst asbestos exposure cases to date.

By what alchemy does such a failing organization suddenly become such a good regulator?

Warren Meyer, “Question: Name An Activity The Government is Better At Than the Private Actors It Purports to Regulate”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-12.

November 1, 2016

November is financial literacy month … please stop pestering us with well-meaning financial advice

Filed under: Cancon, Economics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Frances Woolley says the various government attempts to cajole us into being more economically minded are mostly a waste of time and effort:

November is financial literacy month. Canadians are being advised: Start with a budget. It is about as effective as declaring National Fat Shaming month, and advising Canadians: Start with a diet. Saving money, like losing weight, requires fundamental lifestyle changes. But it is hard for anyone to change the way that they live.

Take, for example, one of the standard pieces of financial advice: Give up that morning latte, and other frivolous habits, and soon you’ll have saved enough for a down payment on a new home. As someone who works at a university, I have some sympathy for those who rail against millennials with their lattes. Here am I, bringing my coffee from home in a Thermos, and I see students who are less affluent than me sipping fancy drinks from Starbucks. What would it take for them to do what I do?

To begin with, it would take time: an extra 10 or 15 minutes in the morning. Second, it would take capital: a kitchen with a coffee machine and space to store stuff. Third, it would take know-how: coffee brewing skills. Finally, it would take self-discipline: to go to bed early, and get up in time to make coffee at home.

Financial literacy education tries to remove that last obstacle, self-discipline, by lecturing people about the virtues of managing money and debt wisely. But, for the most part, it does not work. As Carleton University economist Saul Schwartz, puts it: “Financial education might have some positive effects on financial outcomes, but they are modest at best.” People are simply not very good at exercising self-restraint. When consumers have tap-enabled credit cards that make purchases painless, it is hard to resist the temptation to spend.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress