A Leap Of Faith In Ourselves

September 26, 2015

If you want to see the hollow, corrupted shell that modern conservatism has become, check out its reaction to the leap manifesto.hysterical (The what? I know, I know. So like, 10 days ago.) “Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backward,” wailed the Financial Post’s Peter Foster, “…issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome…is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?”

Celebrities and eggheads. What do they know about the real world, am I right? Marxists and Maoists, the lot them, trumpeting long-refuted Keynesian economics, strangled as it was by the Invisible Hand of the free market. The FREE market.

Only moderately less hysterical, the Globe and Mail editorial board similarly dismissed the presence of ‘movie stars and pop musicians’ (and public-service unions — *spit*) signing on to this “…revolutionary (but not in the good sense of the word) critique of capitalism.” angrypartisanWhat might be a good sense of the word ‘revolutionary’? The G&M doesn’t really take the time to explain such details, too busy ripping apart the document’s contents for that.

In doing so, the Globe showed itself as willing as the Financial Post not to engage candidly with the leap manifesto. Misrepresentation was more to their liking. Not coincidentally both publications claimed that the manifesto called for an end to all trade deals with a big ripping noise. Problem is, they both cut and copied the first part of that particular sentence.

“We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. [Bolding mine.]

That’s a huge gulf of difference between what is written and what these newspapers claimed was on the page.

At least these papers made the pretense of having a serious (but not in the good sense of the word) discussion. Over on social media, all critique and flack began and ended on the word ‘manifesto’. In a nutshell: You know who else wrote a manifesto? Karl Marx. joemccarthyIt was called The Communist Manifesto. Therefore, all manifestos are communist. You support this manifesto? You’re a communist. You know who supports this manifesto? The NDP. They’re communists. Their leader, Tom Mulcair, is a communist. A Tommunist. Get it? Tom-Comm, Tommunist. Tommunist Manifesto. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto

A ‘50s-era line of attack smear intending, I guess, to provide cover for those still in desperate need for a reason to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election. Well, Harper’s not perfect but at least he’s not a communist. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto.

Mock and ridicule. The current state of our conservative politics, folks.

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(The three dots to denote a change of what will hopefully turn out to be a related narrative direction that I couldn’t masterfully do using just words. I’m fessing up to that up front.)

Along with the leap manifesto, I also spent some time reading Joshua Zeitz’s August Atlantic article, Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream, commemorating (if that’s the right word) the 40th anniversary of the album’s release. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” Springsteen said in a later interview. borntorun“But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That, in two sentences, summed up the rationale of the western post-war consensus. A mixed-use economy with the government playing an integral in both smoothing out the regular kinks the market suffered, as well as ensuring a level playing field in providing equal access to opportunity. Not, as Springsteen pointed out, equal access to a billion dollars but at `the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.’

Born To Run became something of an anthem to the breakdown of that consensus occurring in the mid-70s. Conventional economic thought had not seen the economic shocks that rattled the boom time belief in never-ending growth and prosperity coming, and it wasn’t quick enough to offer up possible solutions to the malaise which set in. In its place, up popped a seductively simple alternative. Free up the markets from the death grip of government intervention. borntorun1Unleash the wealth creators and let the good times roll. Money will trickle down to everyone. A rising tide will raise all boats.

Remove the human element from the free market, the FREE market, and let it run perfectly, like Newton’s well-oiled cosmic clock, keeping exact time according to the immutable laws of the universe. Keynes was dead. Long live the Chicago school!

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” H.L. Mencken wrote decades earlier, predicting, I’m sure, economic theorists.

The upheaval wasn’t simply economic. The social consensus also fractured. In this everybody for themselves environment promoted by the new economic model we were told would solve our problems, oppositional forces turned on each other. Union leaders were now seen as fat cats and leeches. Racial divisions hardened. And what were the damn girls screeching about now?

As Zeitz points out in his article, the protest politics of the 60s didn’t disappear in the 70s. They changed. Gone were the hippies marching against an unjust war, in favour of peace and love. 1970sIn their place, the taxpayers’ revolt and the moral majority. The counter-revolution, reactionism.

Like many Canadians of my demographic, I was buffered from the tumult, by and large. I had discovered Bruce Springsteen post-Born To Run with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He spoke to the mild youthful rebellion I was experiencing. Springsteen and the punks. But I was far from one of the working class figures he depicted in his songs.

My parents certainly were but they had seized the opportunity offered up by the post-war consensus Springsteen spoke of, to live a life of decency and self-respect, and ensure I never had to toil as hard as they did. The irony is, the only time I spent on the factory floor was in a summer job between 1st and 2nd year of university, in a union shop, making a shitload of money. A shitload of money.

But that was during the early-80s, and things were different back then. Me and my generation (probably grammatically incorrect but sounds appropriately gritty) kicked away the ladder behind us as we climbed into the comfortable positions our parents created for us. Sorry, kids. Didn’t you hear? The rules have all changed.

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(Act 3, or the Final Act, a variation on the Hegelian thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Fingers crossed!)

Just as the post-war consensus era ran its course, collapsing after 30, 35 years, its successor, what do we call it, The Great Unravelling, is walking wounded on its last legs. breadlineHidebound ideological adherents refuse to admit it but it all came crashing down in 2008, and now limps toward its demise, unable to staunch the bleeding.

We call it the Great Recession because, apparently, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression which, along with World War II, was an important element in the subsequent creation of the post-war consensus. We’ve been through some tough times recently, sure. But not that tough, not Dust Bowl, bread line tough. Everybody’s got a cell phone and hi-def TV. How hard can it be?

2008 was just blip, a bad downturn, a correction, if you will. Nothing that 7 years of sluggish growth wide spread economic insecurity won’t help fix. Pay no attention to any dark clouds that pop up on the horizon, it’ll be blue skies and smooth sailing ahead if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, adamsmithkeeping taxes low, governments small and our ears to the ground for any sort of threat to our way of doing business life.

Friend of this site, former city councillor and proud Progressive Conservative, John Parker, in reaction to the news that the pay of the average U.S. CEO in 2014 was almost 400 times that of the average employee, “multiples of what it was a few decades ago,” Mr. Parker tweeted, asked how many had read Adam Smith’s book, Wealth of Nations. Smith was an 18th-century philosopher, hero of the neo-conservative/liberal set, who penned the idea of the Invisible Hand, the magic of the free market, the FREE market, summoned by our rational pursuit of self-interest.

“And hands up everyone who knows that Adam Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Parker continued. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith, redux: An economic system must have a moral foundation in order to be sustainable.”

Markets don’t have morals. They just determine winners and losers. jacobmarleyPeople are moral (or should be). Government should reflect people, moral people, not markets.

While it would be simplistic to chalk up the cause of the crash of 2008 to just one thing, I do not think it outrageous to believe that the key to understanding such a massive economic failure (and its ongoing lingering malaise – there’s that word again) is that the system had absolutely no moral foundation. It wasn’t sustainable, a spectacular flameout was inevitable because it lacked morality, fairness or any sense of responsibility beyond me, mine and my own.

I would postulate that it is this lack of morality the leap manifesto seeks to address.

Or sought to address, I guess it’s fair to conclude. Ten days is a long time, especially in a 70+ day campaign. The leap manifesto seems to have become something of a relic, a tic. Big news for a day or two, then vapour. Almost as if it didn’t happen. A new shoe tried on but ill-fitting. It didn’t stick to the NDP like conservatives hoped it would. It didn’t stick to the NDP because the NDP wanted nothing to do with it.

Clearly, an election campaign is no time to talk about root causes, big ideas or actual change from a rotten status quo. Carry on, gentlemen. jmkeynesIt’s business as usual.

Now we’re on to niqabs and the conservative rallying cry of Can Governments Really Do Anything About The Economy? Really?

A couple weeks back, Doug Saunders, certainly no avid proponent of government interventionism and writing for the same Globe and Mail newspaper that had haughtily dismissed the leap manifesto, suggested that maybe, just maybe, the government does have role to play in economic affairs.

Many economists came to realize not only that government intervention bailed many countries out of the post-2008 recession and restored growth and employment, but that the crisis itself may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy – the sort of direct investment and partnership that had existed in earlier decades.

“The crisis itself” — a crisis of 21st-century capitalism – “may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy.” Active government support “that had existed in earlier decades.”

How’s that for your great leap backward? To a time when government didn’t simply get out of the way and let the magic of the mythical invisible hand do its thing. freemarketTo a time when it was expected that a government would do all it could to ensure that, how did Bruce Springsteen put it? “…everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That doesn’t seem overly ambitious or too unachievably utopian. It just doesn’t square with the self-made man image of the economic right where worth is measured solely by wealth regardless of the manner in which it was amassed. If you haven’t made it, bucko, look no further than the mirror. The blame lies squarely there, nowhere else.

It’s everybody for themselves and everything else will fall into place.

Except it doesn’t. It never has, and the façade of that political and economic belief system shattered in 2008. Having spent the past 7 years trying to piece it back together, to tweak and tinker it as if only minor adjustments were all that was needed, we’re simply denying the reality our current situation. Only a transformation, another great transformation, if you will, is in order.headinthesand

That’s what the leap manifesto is all about.

That it’s already yesterday’s news suggests we’re not ready to make any sort of transformative leap. We agonize over almost rounding error deficits and accept the faulty premise that only balanced budgets will cure the economic ills that ail us. We’ll elect our next federal government based on minor differences, all revolving around a discredited economic model and an abused sense of governance. And then we’ll wonder why nothing much has changed.

ever hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Selling Us Short

March 17, 2015

Frankly, I’m beginning to suspect Mayor John Tory’s business smarts as much as I’ve become dubious of his approach to 21st-century urban issues.suspect

According to the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat, on some morning talk show today, the mayor expressed the notion that, what Toronto needs are ‘big events’ to get people to come to the city. You see, he’s heading down to Austin in a couple days to attend the South By Southwest Festival and wants to sell Toronto as a place that could do that kind of business. Forget for the moment that Toronto regularly does do that kind of business. Why, in fact, the city’s home to more than just one music (or “pop culture”, as the mayor refers to it) event a year. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve how you do it, learn from other places.

It’s just… these “big event” mayors and their circuses.

What does it say about their view of the city they represent? In order to draw people here, we need to lure them with big ticket events. Musical and film festivals. Sporting events. Casino and ferris wheels.circus

How many destinations, cities especially, do you visit for one thing? I mean, you go to Atlanta because it’s hosting the Olympics. Is that what really draws you to London? Yeah, yeah. I hear you. Toronto’s no London. Fair enough but, how about Chicago as a comparison. If you go to Chicago, do you go for just one reason?

Cities attract tourists for a combination of reasons. Places to see. Things to do. Ease of getting there and getting around. And an unquantifiable quality of delivering something, a vibe let’s call it, visitors don’t get at home.

Does Toronto possess that vibe? I don’t know. It’s tough to judge from the inside but I’d say in fits and starts. But I’m pretty sure some ‘big event’ isn’t going to be the tipping point that secures us that ever so elusive label of ‘world class’.liveablecity

I’d be much more enthusiastic about the mayor’s push for attracting more tourists if, instead, he was out advocating for the city’s ability to implement a hotel tax. Use that money directly to help pay for our desperate infrastructure needs that would go a long way to improving the city’s ability to attract visitors. Maybe while Mayor Tory is down in Austin, he can ask the mayor there about that city’s Hotel Occupany Tax.

And maybe on his way back home from Austin, our mayor should do a quick layover in Minneapolis. Set up some meetings there with company mucky mucks, ask them if they keep their businesses in the Twin Cities because it’s – How did he say it on the radio today? ‘Technology jobs come because it is a cool, hip place to be’?

Really? Is that businessman John Tory’s read on things? austinCompanies with their 21st-century technology jobs set up shop where it’s groovy to do so? Somebody needs to take that Richard Florida book from the mayor or, at least, try explaining it a little deeper for him. (That isn’t what Florida meant by the ‘creative class’, is it? I haven’t read it.)

“No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well,” the Atlantic says of Minneapolis-St. Paul in its article, The Miracle of Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area is richer by median household income than Pittsburgh or Salt Lake City (or New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles). Among residents under 35, the Twin Cities place in the top 10 for highest college-graduation rate, highest median earnings, and lowest poverty rate, according to the most recent census figures. And yet, according to the Center for Housing Policy, low-income families can rent a home and commute to work more affordably in Minneapolis–St. Paul than in all but one other major metro area (Washington, D.C.). Perhaps most impressive, the Twin Cities have the highest employment rate for 18-to-34-year-olds in the country.

The top 10 ‘for highest college-graduation rate, highest median earnings, and lowest poverty’ among under 35 residents. ‘The highest employment rate for 18-to-34-year-olds in the country’.minneapolis

That hip and cool enough for you, Mr. Mayor?

It seems no one festival or big event has done the trick for Minneapolis. Apparently it has more to do with a history of equitable sharing of resources and tax dollars that has built affordability into the equation. People stay, and work and live and raise families, because they can afford to. Rather than depending on attracting business to it, the Twin Cities have a history of developing their own businesses, maintaining a critical mass of management level workers who deliver a smooth continuity.

Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. Minneapolis didn’t create such a scenario itself. The state bought into the concept as well. And I’m sure there’ll be plenty of huffing and puffing about Toronto not being Minneapolis, bigger and more diverse, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.barker

My point being, it’ll take far more than some one-off shazzam big event to deliver the economic impact the mayor is hoping to score in his search for Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Being hip, I don’t think, is really much of a substantive business plan. Mayor Tory seems to be mixing up cause and effect.

Transforming an economy takes a lot more than simply ‘selling the city’. It requires some boldness in thinking based on frank discussions about the realities you face. So far, our businessman mayor has opted merely to be a showman, relying on cheap optics and empty rhetoric to give the impression of doing something.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr