Canada’s ruling prime minister, Stephen Harper, seems to have persuaded voters that, as an “economist,” he is fit to rule the country, since there is nothing more important than “the economy.”
But just what is it that he is talking about?
An economy is how we organize our material affairs, from the household to the state and, now, internationally. It’s how we meet our daily needs, such as for food and water, share our wealth, and consider our future and the world our children will have to live in – not as individuals, but collectively, as a society.
The late-capitalist economy we currently endure is presented to us by its corporate-minded sponsors as the best of all possible economies – in fact, the only possible economy. Its sole measure of success is “growth”: growth in GDP, growth in corporate profits, growth in CEO compensation.
Criteria such as meeting everyone’s basic needs or equitable distribution of wealth, not to mention what kind of world will be left for our children and grandchildren, are relegated to that mysterious force called “the market.”
If our present capitalist economy is the only one possible, then it stands to reason that it must perform well. If it falters, a life-support system must be called up and implemented. Since, according to the doctrine, there is no alternative ( TINA), the life-support system must take the form of resuscitation, more colloquially referred to as “stimulation.”
Then the question arises, who is going to do the stimulating?
Obviously those responsible for the faltering – the bankers, investors and speculators – cannot be called upon since they are the ones to be resuscitated.
That leaves the state: that vile institution that can do no good, according to neo-liberal doctrine, and must be privatized or at least downsized, not to say eviscerated.
The “tough on crime” agenda of the Harper regime illustrates well what constitutes an economy in neo-liberal minds.
Start with the long history of prison farms.
Prison farms, economists will tell you, were bad for the economy. They significantly reduced the economic activity of purchasing corporate food for the prison population. Indeed, they provided food for the local community and charitable institutions. They also contributed to the rehabilitation of prisoners and improving their mental health, thus reducing future prison costs.
By eliminating the prison farms, the Harper regime boosted the economic welfare of the food industry. Reducing the rehabilitative effect of the prison farms also adds to the recidivist prison population. This, combined with an increase in what is defined as criminal (except for white collar crime, which is good for the economy) and increased jail times, will require the building of more prisons, also good for the economy, particularly if they are privately built and operated, as seems highly likely. So you can see that Harper’s “tough on crime” agenda is really an economic stimulus program.
With the courts instructed to deliver a growing number of prisoners, this won’t be good for Canada and the Canadian people, but it will contribute to growth of the economy.
Now take this logic a bit further. The food movement, with all its emphasis on local, and with its recruitment of unpaid labour, such as school children and seniors growing their own gardens and sharing cooking (processing) “from scratch,” is really a negative factor in the economy.
Self-sufficiency is a bad thing for the economy and its growth advocates. Globalization, of course, is just the opposite, requiring as it does ever greater measurable official economic activity. The word “measurable” is important, because what counts in a neo-liberal economy is only what can be counted.
Perhaps this is what Harper means when he talks about “accountability?” Value is counted in dollars. The garbage collector is essential to the orderly life of the CEO, but his value, measured in annual compensation, is infinitesimal. This economy values the CEO but not the public servant. The pay of the clerk in the supermarket would be virtually invisible placed alongside the income of the supermarket chain’s CEO.
If this description seems a bit harsh, consider the “compensation” some of Canada’s highest paid executives received in 2010.
Bill Doyle, PotashCorp of Saskatchewan, $11,600,000
Michael Wilson, Agrium, $8,900,000
Mayo Schmidt, Viterra, $4,390,000
Galen G. Weston, Loblaw Cos., $3,900,000
Donald Schroeder, Tim Hortons, $3,580,000
Eric La Fleche, Metro, $3,100,000
Lino Saputo, Saputo, $2,850,000
Alain Bouchard, Alimentation Couche-Tard, $2,270,000
W. Galen Weston, George Weston Ltd, $2,098,000
Paul Sobey, Empire Co., $1,800,000
That’s a total of roughly $44.5 million for those 10 men at the top of various corporations involved in the business of food.
Now consider that it is quite possible to live very comfortably in Canada on $200,000 a year (most Canadians get by on considerably less) and subtract 10 x $200,000, or $2 million, from $44 million.
Think of what we could do with $42 million towards creating a real economy for the people of Canada, and the world.
Democracy is supposed to be about the voice of the people and the government listening to the people and acting accordingly.
We are now in a situation where there are only two voices the government hears: one is that of those artificial personae, the corporations, the other is that of their own right-wing ideology of individualism, greed, aggression and privatization – often wrapped up together and presented as “competitiveness.”
Democracyissupposedtobeaboutthevoice ofthepeopleandthegovernmentlistening tothepeopleandactingaccordingly.