Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trade, Trade, Trade

I recall an interview with prime minister Trudeau at the 6-month mark of his ascent to power. He told the interviewer that his overarching responsibility was to be an agent of trade. Trade to grow the economy. Trade to generate prosperity.

Trudeau's Harperesque pursuit of CETA and TPP demonstrates that he means business. This goes straight back to those mandate letters he issued to his freshly minted cabinet ministers as they were sworn in. Even Catherine McKenna's marching orders stipulate that her priorities are to be the economy and the environment. There's no doubt that she meant it when she said she was "as much an economic minister as an environmental minister."

Trade it is then. But, if you're going to make trade your priority, your dominant responsibility, then surely you have to accept full responsibility for the fallout from that pursuit. That's on you, Slick.

One element of that fallout is the rise of Canada's homegrown "precariat." It's a term used to describe the future this free-trading government has bequeathed to our youth. In case you're wondering, that's a future fraught with insecurity and economic peril.

Earlier this week, Trudeau finance minister, Bill Morneau, delivered the bad news telling Canadians that they would just have to get used to "job churn" - a future of intermittent employment and a constant scramble for the next job, that essential paycheque to meet the rent and heat the apartment.

Morneau defined his government's focus will be to train and retrain and retrain regularly laid off Canadians as they're tossed "from job to job to job."

What Morneau avoided was any mention of why he's consigned Canada's most vulnerable to a nomadic working life, always wondering when the current job will end and where they'll find the next temporary spot, how long it will take to find and how they'll avoid falling through the floorboards when that inevitable dislocation happens again and again and again.

Morneau won't mention how his own government and its predecessors laid the foundation for this upheaval and uncertainty through its obsessive pursuit of neoliberalism and global free trade, the constant downward spiral. He won't explain why, when even the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can no longer remain silent on the social and economic damage inflicted by globalism, his government remains a faithful adherent to this toxic ideology.

I'm sorry Morneau and you too, Trudeau, but, when you tell Canadians to forego their hopes and resign themselves to a future in the precariat, what you're really telling them is that you won't change course and liberal democracy be damned.

It wasn't always this way. Here are a few observations from two real American Idols - Lincoln and T. Roosevelt.

Let's begin with Abraham Lincoln who declared:

“I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

If it is, indeed, man's duty "to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind," how is he to do that when his government consigns him to the precariat and tells him to "get used to it"?

If Labour is "the superior of capital" how is it that your government chooses to stack the deck so that capital prevails at the direct cost and damage to labour and our society?

Now let's turn to Teddy Roosevelt who observed:

"In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows."

"At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth."

"Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled."

"There is a wide-spread belief among our people that, under the methods of making tariffs which have hitherto obtained, the special interests are too influential. Probably this is true of both the big special interests and the little special interests. These methods have put a premium on selfishness, and, naturally, the selfish big interests have gotten more than their smaller, though equally selfish, brothers. The duty of Congress is to provide a method by which the interest of the whole people shall be all that receives consideration."

"Of conservation I shall speak more at length elsewhere. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation."

"Now, with the water power, with the forests, with the mines, we are brought face to face with the fact that there are many people who will go with us in conserving the resources only if they are to be allowed to exploit them for their benefit. That is one of the fundamental reasons why the special interests should be driven out of politics. Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part."

"The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted. Let us admit also the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good. The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him. No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day’s work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life by which we surround them."

"The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens. Just in proportion as the average man and woman are honest, capable of sound judgment and high ideals, active in public affairs, — but, first of all, sound in their home, and the father and mother of healthy children whom they bring up well, — just so far, and no farther, we may count our civilization a success."

Now, I know these passages carry a certain homespun-ness that can seem awkward but I dare you to tell me - whether you're a Conservative, New Democrat, Liberal or Green - would you really prefer a government that doesn't embrace every one of these principles? What would you give to have a government that did, a genuinely progressive party?

Climate change is, or should be, a non-partisan issue. It's the ultimate scientific question spanning the gamut of Earth sciences - geology, climatology, atmospherics and meteorology, hydrology and oceanography, physics, agronomy, epidemiology, on and on and on. Those disciplines are all separate voices. They have their own scientific focus, their own scientific history, and they each test the "hypothesis" against the best research, analysis and knowledge of their own discipline. Discipline, by discipline, by discipline - without exception - they have all tested the theory of climate change against their own strictures and found in that ever more corroboration.

Progressivism, like climate change, can and should be a non-partisan issue. You shouldn't have to be a Conservative or Liberal or, even, New Democrat to reach out and grab these precepts and notions. Even Edmund Burke wrote of matters progressive.

And so how do our Latter Day Liberals and Conservatives justify so abandoning the Canadian people and, especially, our younger generations? Who elected them to give the future the finger?

This, of course, brings us back to Morneau's finger to young and future Canadians to just "suck it up." If you were one of those kids, you might look at us and the governments we imposed on them as truly predatory acts.

I can only defend some of what we've done by claiming "we didn't know." We really didn't know the scope or the nature or the self-destructive qualities of neoliberalism. But we've had our eyes opened now,  at least other than those who chose to turn their heads, and we don't have any excuse to keep tolerating the Morneau's and the Trudeau's and Harper's of this world who see no obligation to ensure the Canada bequeathed to our young and future generations won't be a much degraded remnant of the country we have exploited for our ease and comfort.

It's not unfair to say that Morneau's dystopian vision is, in a word, revolting. That's "revolting" as in justifying resistance, civil disobedience, perhaps even upheaval. If this government isn't leaving our young people and generations to come the best possible future it can provide, if it isn't even attempting to fix this crisis of our own making, why should any young person accept it? Why should they find any legitimacy in such a government?

If I stumbled across an act of civil disobedience underway today, I would be very tempted just to look the other way. This form of governance is not legitimate to me either.


Lorne said...

Your post, and the actions of our 'new' government, Mound, help demonstrate the absence of real leadership in our country. Except for those whose involvement in the political, economic and social discourses of our times is peripheral or non-existent, people are beginning to see the true nature of the people who prevailed in the last election. It is not a pretty picture, and young Justin can look forward to more demonstrations of discontent like the one he experienced the other day at the hands of young people.

I have never heard a more abject submission to the neoliberal imperative than Morneau's assertion that young people will just have to get used to precarious work. That statement alone shows his unfitness for public office.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Morneau has shown himself unfit for office, Lorne, but he's hardly an outlier in the Trudeau cabinet. What Morneau was noting was the arrival of just one inevitable impact of the neoliberal displacement of liberal democracy. We saw this unfold so openly in the States and yet we did nothing to forestall its certain arrival in our country.

The young need to fight back and that means fighting their and our government. If it comes to it I would probably side with the young in this.

John B. said...

Morneau and Trudeau might not get it, but you can be sure that Derek Burney and Norton Rose do. If you can endure it, drag yourself through this offering from a couple days ago:

Meanwhile, in a segment on CBC P&P the dispute settlement issue is discussed in such a way as to suggest that it deals with disputes between signatories, while Justin's chief dollar-a year market-libertarian mouthful, Dominic Barton, is fawningly referred to by Mexico Mandy as Canada's "economic czar" as he gets a full half-hour with her nodding presence ("The fact that unions exist ... ton of roadblocks") on Bloomberg North:

And since Mulroney has decreed that the TPP is dead, I think the entire assembly can agree that it's time to make some minor adjustments in our "wave approach"; take a closer, but not too close, look at the "Australian model"; and get ready to tie a tighter knot with China.

Next stop: India.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, John. Thanks for the links. Makes me think we're heading for a hard landing.

Lulymay said...

I could have delivered Morneau's message in less than 10 words:

"Suck it up, this is the way it is!"

What this guy is suggesting is totally unrealistic. What are the costs to keep retraining the unemployed for just another short term job? And realistically what kind of a job would that be? This is not a jobs plan. Most people will very quickly give up and who could blame them.

Hugh said...

More trade with EU means more stuff transported long distances on ships, trucks and airplanes, which means more GHG emissions. I thought the plan was to curtail GHG emissions.

I think the worst part about CETA is the ISDS provisions. According to the Globe and Mail, ISDS is now not part of the CETA, for the time being anyway. This is good.