Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why I think the Conservatives’ fiscal plan for Canada is bad for business

This is a long article, so I've split it up.

-- The following 5 paragraphs are the least you need to know about my opinion: --

I was a small business owner (and will be again). I built a successful business from the ground up. My understanding of fiscal prudence comes not from a fancy degree, but from running a business and keeping it profitable. I’ve been given awards by a number of nationally recognized institutions for my business abilities.

I do not believe that the Conservative plan of tax cuts plus “cutting the fat in government” is sustainable over the long term. It is obvious to me that without additional tax revenue, deep cuts will be necessary.

I believe that such cuts will necessarily affect health transfers to the provinces, where it will do the least political damage to the Conservatives come the next election.

I believe that a weakened health care infrastructure is a greater threat to our economic competitiveness as a nation, because savings that can be gained from tax cuts to business and individuals will be more than offset by expenditures that would have to be outlaid by business in increased employer sponsored private healthcare plans.

Therefore, I do not agree that the Conservatives’ 2011 “Here For Canada” platform constitutes a well thought out long term strategy for Canada’s economic competitiveness.

-- That is the overview of this article. If you’d like the detail of my opinions, please read on. --

Hello. My name is Michael-Andreas Kuttner. Starting in 1995 with a partner and $400, I established an animation company in Atlantic Canada called Collideascope. Between 1995 and the company’s orderly close in 2008, we built the company into one that over the years employed hundreds of tax paying Canadians, with company revenues counted in the millions of dollars. We started small, we grew slowly, and we never had an unprofitable year.

I have decided to write this blog posting in order to offer my perspective on the choice we are being offered in the upcoming Canadian Federal Election. These thoughts are my own and I do not purport to speak for anyone else.

Before I begin, full disclosure; my views are firmly on the left of the Canadian political spectrum. I disagree with a great many social policies that the Conservatives are offering in this election. For certain, my views are coloured by this. However, my prime concern in writing this letter is that of an entrepreneur and someone who considers himself to be fiscally (small-c) conservative.

My understanding of fiscal conservatism (as opposed to fiscal big-C Conservatism) is adherence to a strict rule that you spend less than you earn, and if you want to spend more, you must first earn enough to increase your spending.

My concern is that the Conservative party’s tax plans do not address this uncomfortable fiscal reality. The Conservatives’ platform offers tax cuts both to businesses and to individuals. The problem here is that almost all government revenue comes from business taxes or personal income taxes. There are also consumption taxes (GST), but those have already been cut.

The problem, then, is that without more money coming in, you can’t spend money unless you borrow it from someone. That’s called a deficit. Now, when you do that, you owe that money back, and you owe interest payments on it . Not a big deal if you borrow 20 bucks from your neighbour and tell him you’ll pay him 23 next week, but it becomes a big deal when your nation owes over half a trillion dollars and has to pay over 33 billion a year just to make the interest payments!

When I ran my company, I did it prudently. We spent less than we earned, and we made sure to put some cash aside in case things went bad. More than once, things did go bad. Sadly, during those times, I had to lay a lot of people off and tell them that I didn’t know when we’d be in a position to re-hire them. Then, my partner and I took a pay cut and worked like hell to bring business in the door so we could get back to profitability. That’s what you do when things are bad; you cut costs and try to increase cash coming in.

The Conservatives’ plan says they’ll cut costs and also cut the tax cash coming in to them. They’re relying on a formula called ‘trickle down economics’ (also called ‘supply-side economics’) that says if you give businesses a break, they’ll spend more on hiring and re-tooling their plants and the economy will grow. Therefore, more people will be employed in Canada at higher wages and even though their income taxes are lower, it’s better to collect 3 dollars each from two people than 5 dollars from one person, right?

It sounds great! More people working, less taxes, and we all win! Unfortunately, trickle-down economics has never, ever worked in any country it’s been tried in. Sure, the US grew like crazy after Reaganomics, but look at the place now. As a result of a “cut taxes, cut spending” policy since the 80’s in our neighbour to the south, their country has not paid down a single dollar of their debt (except twice during the Clinton years. Not so coincidentally, he was not a trickle-down guy). They are now over 14 Trillion dollars in the hole, and all the cards are held by the rich.

“Held by the rich?! What do you mean?”

I mean just that. According to statistics compiled by the Institute of Policy Studies, the top 1% of Americans hold 33.8% of the wealth of that country. The next 9% of Americans own another 37.7% of the nation’s wealth. Together, the other 90% of Americans hold the remaining 28.5% of the country’s assets, and that gets worse if you’re unlucky enough to be in the bottom 50% of the population. They get to share only 2.5% of the nation’s money between themselves.

“So what does that have to do with Canada?”

Remember the Conservatives’ trickle down economics? There it is at work. To me, this income disparity is proof that when you give a tax cut to businesses, the people who benefit are the ones who own those businesses. To me, the massive US debt is proof that when you expect to balance the budget by cutting everyone’s taxes and waiting for things to start getting better, you’ve got a hell of a long wait on your hands. In fact so far, that wait looks pretty close to forever.

“So why won’t our tax cuts be different than the US tax cuts? We’re not the US.”

No, we aren’t the US. But we are human. And humans work according to human nature, no matter where you go. I would posit that the wealthy have an outsized propensity for saving compared to the general population. This is why they are wealthy. Others are, most likely for reasons of financial education and pre existing life conditions, less successful at saving. This leads roughly to the wealth disparities I’ve mentioned. Cut taxes and the poor will spend their share on things they likely need. Cut taxes and the rich will likely save their share, and will less likely hire more people just because they’ve got extra cash lying around. Remember; to run a good business is to run a tight ship. If you’re making good money with a staff of 50 and you get more from a tax break, your margins just went up! Have a celebratory beer and put it in the bank! Don’t pile on another expense in the form of a new employee. That’s what I would do when I was running my company.

“OK, so the rich get a boost. You said the poor get to spend their cash on things they need. Everyone wins! Why are you against that?”

I know, it’s a pretty good deal really. But here’s the problem: the party can only go on so long. Then the government either has to raise taxes or cut spending. If you raise taxes, there’s an excellent chance you won’t get voted in again, so really the only choice is to cut spending. And ‘cutting out the fat’, which is the Conservatives’ big platform solution to the deficit, ain’t going to get anywhere near what we’ll need. Remember that I mentioned earlier that we need over 33 Billion dollars this year to make our interest payments?

“Yeah, So what?”

Well, that number will grow to almost 38 Billion we’ll owe next year. And we’ll still be borrowing more money at the same time, so we’ll keep owing more and more. So, if government is getting less money from taxes and still needs to find big areas to cut, the biggest single pile of money the Feds distribute to the provinces is in the Canada Health Transfer. From their website, the government says: “The CHT cash transfer will reach $27 billion in 2011-12 and will reach over $30 billion in 2013-14.”

That’s not to say it will be that health care gets the axe and the CHT will fall in one fell swoop. That would also be political suicide. However, something’s got to give and federal transfers are based on a percentage of tax revenues coming to the government. They get less in, they are obligated to give less to the provinces. Less transfer cash means it then falls to the provinces to decide how to stretch those bucks. The feds, after all, don’t get to dictate how money is spent on healthcare. They conveniently get to say in the next election that you should blame your premier if your health care isn’t what it used to be.

“You’re just being partisan. What does this have to do with economics?”

I’m glad you brought that up, dear faceless reader. The end game of this is that lower taxes eventually mean less services. We saw that when the Liberals started cutting the debt back in the nineties. We’ll see it again. And one of the main things, perhaps THE main thing that makes Canadian companies competitive with American companies as we compete in the global market, is the fact that Canadian companies don’t have to pay for basic health insurance for their employees. Marginal tax rates between Canada and the US are pretty much the same, but when I’ve seen US companies complain about competing with Canadians, they always refer to what a sweet deal we have here in not having to provide health coverage to our workers. Of course, many businesses will provide dental, a drug plan, a private room, etc. But if a Canadian falls down and breaks their leg, gets cancer, etc, we go to the hospital and are treated and that’s taken care of by the state. Taken care of by our taxes. Taken care of by the massive size of the Canadian healthcare system, which can cut volume deals in a way no private American consortium of hospitals can touch. If that suffers, Canadian business, and in particular, Canadian small business, will suffer as well. This is a real competitive edge that we have relied on for decades, even if we haven’t realized it. If it starts to wane, we in the small business world won’t know what hit us.

So in the end, yes taxes suck. In the end, sure, it’s nice to have a few extra bob in your pocket to buy some groceries or an extra pack of cigarettes. But as a comedian once said about the system here in Canada, “Sure taxes here are high, but there are benefits. A pack of cigarettes? About 20 bucks. A new lung? About 20 bucks.”

A bit more about me:

I don’t endorse a specific party. Canada’s left is too fragmented for that. I currently endorse the concept of strategic voting to try and keep a balance in our Parliament.

I don’t have an economics degree or an MBA. I have a degree in graphic design. I got my business experience through the school of hard knocks, by trying, failing, learning from that failure, and then getting up and trying again. Do that over and over for 13 years, and you’ve got a better perspective on these things than any wet behind the ears business student from a fancy university, in my books.

Though I must stress that I do not speak for any of these organizations, the following have decided I was good enough at this business thing to bestow upon me (and my business partner) the following awards:

2005 - Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Canadian Film and Television Producers’ Association
2002 - Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 (Globe & Mail / Caldwell Partners)
2001 - Finalist, Small Business of the Year - Metro Halifax Chamber of Commerce business awards.
2000 - Small Business of the Year - Metro Halifax Chamber of Commerce business awards.
1999 - Finalist, Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award (Atlantic provinces), Young Entrepreneur category
1998 - Business Development Bank of Canada's Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Oh, and before I’m labeled as a “failed businessman”, I’d like to disclose that I wound down my business in 2008, after the whole industry had been clobbered by the recession. We ended the business after delivering fully to our client on our last contract, and gave all our permanent employees 2 months’ notice before closing. Unlike many companies in our industry, we closed in an orderly wind-down with all debts paid and all obligations met.

And yes, my company was involved in film & television production. While it’s true that the film industry in Canada is highly subsidized, subsidies to the film industry are still dwarfed by those to the oil and gas industry in this country. All countries subsidize their businesses. Let’s not get in a bun fight over which is more worthy.

Canadian Federal Debt stats: (Table 1 – Economic Growth Scenarios)

US National Debt payment stats:

US Wealth Distribution:

Canada Health Transfer:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mystery Hunters Training School

After a too-long period of development, I'm very happy to announce that the final Collideascope project, Mystery Hunters Training School, has gone live online. It's got 13 episodic adventure games that you can play. If you want something shorter, you can try one of the 25 mini-games on the site as well. Enjoy.

Visit the Mystery Hunters Training School site!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time-Lapse Twitter Visualization Shows America’s Moods

Very interesting. The takeaway here is not to expect people to react well to you after lunch.

From Mashable:

A group of researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities have gathered enough data from Twitter to give us all a snapshot of how U.S. residents feel throughout a typical day or week.

Not only did they analyze the sentiments we collectively expressed in 300 million tweets over three years against a scholarly word list, these researchers also mashed up that data with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Google Maps API and more. What they ended up with was a fascinating visualization showing the pulse of our nation, our very moods as they fluctuate over time.

Here's the study:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Created a quick Flash demo for Android phones

Basically this is just a quick mod of some animation we did for another project that lets you make a little guy dance on the screen. We messed around with a few frame rates on it, and I've found that 8FPS seems to work best for vector animation at a full screen size. However, I'm experiencing some shearing on my Nexus One as it tries to blit all of the animation to the screen. If anyone happens upon this, I'd be interested in your feedback.

Here are the test files:

30 fps

10 fps

8 fps

6 fps

For SEO - Flash for Android, Nexus One Flash, Flash 10.1, Flash Android Demo

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Palm Pre is a piece of unmitigated garbage

Ten months ago, around the end of August, I bought the shiny new Palm Pre that I had been waiting for since its announcement the previous February. For reasons of the onscreen keyboard and that I didn't like the calendar and email apps, I didn't want an iPhone, so this seemed the thing to get. Palm had put a lot of work into the user interface and I had always found their calendar, contacts, etc very usable. So, when I took the wraps off of it and started using it, I was elated. It just worked, and worked well. The OS was, and still is, a great piece of work.

Fast forward to January of this year: My Pre developed spiderweb like cracks emanating from the button in the front. It rendered my touchscreen useless. I sent it away, grumpily paid my $150 insurance deductible, and chalked it up to me having the bad luck to get a dud. My new one came a few days later and after transferring my info to it, I was back in business. For about 2 weeks.

My second Pre's screen had just stopped working. No clue as to why. Didn't drop it, no spider cracks, nothing. So, I called the warranty place and asked for another. Luckily, no deductible this time. It came, I switched, back up and running.

A week or so later, the power button at the top of the thing just broke. I couldn't turn it on or off. Again, I had to call the warranty guys. They sent me my FOURTH Pre in under 2 months. I transferred my data (I was getting really good at this step), and crossed my fingers...

Fast forward to early June. I started to notice that the Pre would just sporadically shut down for no reason. I would close and open it too fast and boom, the thing would just go off. The battery was full, no clue as to why. I started to get a sinking feeling. After a few weeks of hoping this would go away, it started to happen more frequently.

Defeated, I decided to start looking into other phone platforms. I ordered my Nexus One 3 days before the built-in speaker and mic on the phone stopped working for me. Now, I can only make calls when I have the earbuds plugged in. Luckily, my Nexus arrives Monday.

So long, Palm. You gave it a great try, and you largely got it right on the OS. But let's face it - your hardware build quality was complete and total crap. I did my best as a loyal believer and rooter for the underdog, but when the thing doesn't even work, it's time to head for greener pastures. Here's hoping HP has a better fate in store for you.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stuart Brown says play is more than fun

A great talk about how play is necessary for our everyday lives and the lack of play starves us creatively.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quick update

It's been ten months since the announcement of the demise of Collideascope Digital Productions Inc. Technically, the company is still around as we wind it down and take care of final accounting, asset allocation, all that corporate jazz... Anyhow, in the wake of the quiet and dignified passing (not the spectacular failure that many had falsely predicted for so many years) of Collideascope, something had to happen, didn't it? After all, though CDP was successful and everything, it wasn't successful enough to let us saunter into the sunset for time immemorial.

So, it's with very little fanfare at this point that I will let slip the news of Neato Entertainment.

Neato is my little chunk of What M-A Is Up To, post-Collideascope. It will occupy the 4th floor, as Collideascope did. It will have the yellow walls, as Collideascope did. It will just focus on things that are smaller than what Collideascope did.

Anyhow, no new email. No new website. No new business cards as of yet. I'll post here when it becomes something more than just a name I'm doing new work under. Just thought that anyone who follows this thing might like to know.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

M-A is up to new things

There is a neato new project a-brewing in M-A land. Or rather, a project of projects. Stay tuned. Interesting things might be afoot...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Collideascope T4s

Hi, all. Not sure if anyone is still checking this space out since things have been quiet lately. However, I've gotten several inquiries about Collideascope T4s. They were mailed out last week, so if you don't get yours by next week, email me and I'll check into them for you. Either way, worry not. Collideascope may have closed, but we didn't flame out, so we will meet all of our commitments to that end. I am always available to any of our former employees to contact about such matters.

All the best,

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And now, what everyone's been waiting for...

Yep, we finally figured out when the party is happening. So, come one, come all! Denizens, friends, and supporters of Collideascope, I cordially invite you to:


Please join us in celebrating
Collideascope’s great accomplishments
& contributions to the animation
industry as we say our goodbyes
to a great company!!

Date: November 8, 2008
Time: 8pm – 1:30 am
5430 Doyle Street, Halifax
Corner of Spring Garden & Queen Street
Lots of food, drinks & great laughs

For more information
please email