Monday, December 18, 2017

A New Way to View Your Political Leadership

Around the world democracy is giving ground to plutocracy, oligarchy and authoritarianism. In some nations, the US in particular, it happened so incrementally that only a few really noticed and, when they sounded the alarm, they were largely ignored.

There was a time, decades ago, when conservatives harped on endlessly about the perils of "creeping socialism." Today there's no equivalent outrage at creeping authoritarianism or the triumph of oligarchy over democracy. From The Guardian:

Last week the landmark World Inequality Report, a data-rich project maintained by more than 100 researchers in more than 70 countries, found that the richest 1% reaped 27% of the world’s income between 1980 and 2016. The bottom half of humanity, by contrast, got 12%. While the very poorest people have benefited in the last 40 years, it is the extremely rich who’ve emerged as the big winners. China’s economic rise has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty but the wealth share held by the nation’s top 1% doubled from 15% to 30%. Such has been the concentration of wealth in India and Russia that inequality not seen since the time of the Raj and the tsar has reappeared. By 2030, the report warns, just 250 people could own 1.5% of all the wealth in the world.

In the west the prevailing ideology of the last 40 years has been of privatisation, deregulation and most recently austerity. This was grounded in rules that served to hold in check the collective power of electorates. The result was higher profits and dividends, lower personal taxes and – for the richest – a higher share of national income. A culture has embedded the perpetual making and lavish expenditure of wealth. However, this came at the expense of almost everyone else: the age of globalisation has seen the pay of lower- and middle-income groups in North America and Europe stagnate. The toxic afterburn of these policies – moulded by domestic choices as much as global pressures – has poisoned politics. Support for anti-establishment parties is now at its highest level since the 1930s. At the same time, mainstream parties have either been radicalised or considerably weakened.

Citizens must recover the idea that politics offers democratic protection, rooted in an egalitarian tradition. In the UK, it is bewildering to see a housebuilding company pay its chief executive £110m when the firm reaped the benefits of a large government subsidy and share prices that bounced back from post-crash lows. Why are ministers not asking for him to publish his tax return to show he will pay £45m back to the Treasury? A laissez-faire approach has for too long subdued democracy and fostered a hyper-exploitative political economy.

The US supreme court justice Louis Brandeis once correctly observed: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Politicians need to make the case for a more equitable settlement: advocating more progressive taxes and a global financial register to stop wealth being shielded in offshore havens. Government spending on health, education and wellbeing is required for the meaningful exercise of citizenship. The rich must share the burden of common challenges – not just sail away in their tax-haven-registered yachts. The mutinous mood among voters will only deepen when they begin paying carbon taxes, and the rich don’t even pay taxes. Contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus that governance works because people believe it does. This faith rests on the rich pulling their weight. Which is why they should.

We plainly, urgently need a progressive restoration. You won't get it from the Trudeau Liberals. You sure as hell won't get it from the Scheer Conservatives and, as for Singh, he couldn't find his ass with both hands. Which means they're all standing in our way. They will defend the rancid status quo, the same tortured order that has undermined democracy elsewhere and, unless checked, may do much the same here.

Trudeau enshrined this status quo when he skulked away from electoral reform. He's at it again over tax evasion prosecutions. His national revenue minister, Diane Lebouthillier, indignantly defends the revenue agency's crackdown on tax cheats only a CBC investigation finds that they're not cracking down on Trudeau/Morneau-class cheats, the Panama-papers and Paradise-papers cheats.  No, they're after tax protesters and small business cheats who don't declare every dime.  People of quality have little to fear from this government. That's why we all need to accept, Liberals included, that there'll be no progressive restoration for Canada while the political caste as currently constituted continues to tightly grip the reins of power.

It's time we judged our betters not by the colour of their banners but by whether they consistently put the public interest above the special interest, especially when the two conflict. We need to recognize when they fail to put labour over capital as both Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt so forcefully urged. And if you find that they have failed you need to recognize that these supposed leaders, Liberal or Conservative or New Democrat, are an impediment to progress in our society and in our country.



Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more on all counts. Well said.


Anonymous said...

You're quite right, Mound, the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats are an impediment to progress in our society. As you point out, the solutions to problems such as wealth inequality and the resulting degradation of democracy are well-known and empirically tested. They involve confiscatory taxes on the rich with harsh enforcement, cheap or free university and college education, antitrust action to break up cartels and monopolies, and laws that facilitate labour organization to drive up wages.

But the oligarchs who the politicians ultimately serve prefer the problems to the solutions, and enough of us are willing to go along. Until we as a society decide we prefer the solutions, things won't change. Make no mistake, this change won't happen through the ballot box. And until we stop amusing ourselves to death through television, social media and other addictive entertainment, it won't happen at all. We're in Huxley's Brave New World and are willingly surrendering our rights and freedoms for a little more "soma."


Anonymous said...

Anyong....Word is, the government has invested many of our Pension funds overseas. Would that release be a way to shut people up?

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I wondered about that also. It seems that it got an excessive amount of airplay on our news services that conveniently obscured the critical distinction between the funds that honestly report their revenues and activity and that other group, the affluent tax cheats.