“Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.
Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.
What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.”
-George Monbiot, author of How Did We Get into This Mess?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve increased my readings of history, economics and politics, and I think that comes from my determination to better understand the world as it is unfolding, and gain at least a few hints into what the future might hold for those of us who are left vulnerable to larger forces because of our class/caste, income, race, etc.
I’ve kept track of relevant quotes, statistics and observations by jotting them down in a black notebook, filling it to the margins. Recently I came to the last few pages of the notebook and decided to try and distill what I had gleaned from my readings into a mini-essay.
I’ve polished it some, clarified my thoughts in a few places, but tried to retain the surge of inspiration and anger that provoked its composition:
“Now and then I see the truth above the lies…”
Paul Banks, “The Base”
The uneasy truce between capitalism and democracy is breaking down.
At some point—if it hasn’t happened already—we’re going to have to choose between those two opposing ideologies and that choice will define (and haunt) our species for generations to come. Which will it be: a smoothly running corporate machine or our personal freedom?
Slavoj Zizek (among others) insists we’re living in a “late capitalist” world.
Capitalism is in the process of transforming into a more autocratic version of itself—something like China or Singapore, where individual rights, many of the privileges we enjoy as a western society, either do not exist or are drastically scaled back. Doled out in increments by an unholy alliance between state and industry.
It has gotten to the point where capitalism can no longer tolerate the constraints of democracy. Anything that slows or inhibits growth/profit, must be neutered, rendered harmless. And that can be accomplished, for example, through trade pacts that supersede or nullify a country’s legal codes and charters, fatally undermining national social institutions and standards.
Environmental laws, legislation restricting monopolies or policing the financial industry, are anathema to the one-percenters and business elite. They still exist in a magical land where growth is limitless, the stock market their personal Ponzi scheme and there are sufficient resources to sustain their extravagant lifestyles indefinitely.
Their narrative simply does not allow for maintaining a more modest standard of living, conservation, thrift, environmental stewardship…
All their talk of GNP and GDP and TTIP, but they persist in refusing to factor in the short and long term consequences of ruinous, wasteful industrial practices, mindsets that more properly belong to the notorious robber barons of the 19th Century, rather than enlightened and highly educated men and women (okay, mainly men) of today. And the toll continues to mount: pollution and ecological devastation on an unimaginable scale, with all the attendant health problems; a growing disparity between rich and poor; human populations becoming more fearful and anxiety-wracked as they face a future that no longer guarantees food security, let alone the safety and sanctity of their homes and persons.
Clean air, safe food, pure water, human dignity and basic, inalienable rights…these things are non-negotiable. In fact, they are the basis for life itself.
Why would we cede responsibility over such crucial issues to petty bureaucrats and corrupt apparatchiks?
Have we become so lazy and stupid, such sheep, that we would willingly hand the keys of liberty to our warders and bare our throats to ravenous wolves?
“The denial of climate change, while out of tune with the science, is consistent with—even necessary for—the outlook of almost all the world’s economists. The continuous growth described by modern economics, whether informed by Marx, or Keynes or Hayek, depends on the notion that the planet has an infinite capacity to supply us with wealth and absorb our pollution. In a finite world, this is impossible. Pull the rug out from under the dominant economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.
And this, of course, is beyond contemplation. It mocks the dreams of both left and right, of every child and parent and worker. It destroys all notions of progress. If the engine of progress—technology and its amplification of human endeavour—have merely accelerated our rush to the brink, then everything we thought was false. Brought up to believe that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, we are now discovering that it is better to curse the darkness than burn your house down.
Our economists are exposed by climatologists as utopian fantasists, the leaders of a millenarian cult as mad as, and more dangerous than, any religious fundamentalism. But their theories govern our lives, so those who insist that physics and biology still apply are ridiculed by a global consensus founded on wishful thinking.”
George Monbiot, from his book Bring on the Apocalypse: Essays on Self-Destruction
For a minimum of five bucks, you bought your ticket and took your chance (I don’t suppose either Messrs. Harper and Trudeau were among the contributors).
I didn’t win and I think that’s a shame.
It would have been a very interesting meal.
First of all, we’d likely be dining in some fancy-shmancy Toronto establishment–decidedly not my type of joint. I’d have no idea which fork to use, the proper placement of a cloth napkin and, as a rule, only wear neckties for weddings and funerals. Out of nervousness, and since the Party would be picking up the tab, not taxpayers, I’d quickly order a ripping good scotch (“a double, please”) and the evening would start going downhill from there…
* * *
Mr. Mulcair’s colleague, Andrew Cash, and my co-winner (let’s call her Mary, a retired art teacher from New Brunswick), try to keep the conversation on safe ground, discussing the weather and Liberal policies (both of which are judged to be too fickle, ha ha), but I’m having none of that. That first-rate scotch is working wonders on my system and, after all, this is my chance to talk turkey with one of the big boys.
First off, I’d want to know Tom’s views on Tony Blair’s “New Labour”. Before he had time to lower his eyebrows, I’d go on a tirade about the Blair’s invertebrate ideology (i.e. its utter spinelessness). He purged the party of its leftwing, its visionaries, the folks who carried the red flag and espoused traditional socialist causes like unions, class equality, progressivism, etc.
“Oh, sorry, Tom, I used the ‘S’ word, didn’t I? By the way, do you, in any way, still consider yourself a socialist? Do you believe in a classless society, do you favor universal, state-sponsored health care, a tax regime whereby the wealthy pay their fair share and economic policies that strictly legislate financial institutions and corporations, etc.?” A waiter hovers beside him and Mr. Mulcair raises his eyes hopefully but now I want to know if the Leader is familiar with the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, his book The Price of Inequality. I remind him that even the IMF now says that “trickle down economics” (priming the pump at the top of the human food chain) doesn’t work and, in fact, only institutionalizes inequity. Those bastards at the Chicago School of Economics must be chewing the furniture in frustration. Decades of neo-liberal horseshit discounted in one press release…and hardly anyone noticed. Too busy following Caitlyn Jenner’s hijinks. What a bunch of fucking monkeys we are.
“I’m wondering, Tom, if you’ve given much thought to the level of taxation North Americans, particularly Canadians, are willing to absorb in order to guarantee the kind of ‘cradle to the grave’ protection they deserve. The highest income tax bracket in France is something like 70%, isn’t it? Must be the same with those Scandinavian countries leftists are always trotting out as their idea of Utopia. What is it here in Canada? Nowhere near that kind of threshold, I’m afraid. Are you willing to follow the lead of your socialist brothers abroad?” The waiter drifts away and the Leader slumps in his chair.
“And don’t you think it’s time to forget about the PST and GST and instead come up with a GCT–that is, Grotesque Consumption Tax. Targeting those greedhead, hedonistic assholes who spend more than forty thousand dollars on a vehicle or a million bucks on a house. McMansions, fancy boats, lakefront properties; conspicuous consumption far beyond what this planet can possibly sustain.”
The Leader’s eyes light up. He has a set patter on the environment, a power point presentation he’s learned by heart. But does his plan involve:
“…extraordinarily high fines for polluters and serious jail time for the most grievous offenders. Anyone embarking on an enterprise that could be potentially harmful to the environment must put aside a significant pool of money so that after the logging/mining is done, all the environmental damage must be fixed and the land fully rehabilitated. And the transition away from oil, gas and coal (which should have started immediately following Kyoto) must be made official, with a hefty carbon tax, higher fuel taxes, higher plane fares, etc.”
The Leader is turning green, and I don’t mean in the David Suzuki sense. But I know the numbers and one of the guys I absolutely revere is Bill McKibben over at 350.org. He says this planet is already in the red, environmentally speaking, way past the point of no return, and if we want to mitigate the damage for our children and grandchildren we need radical, profound solutions today, rather than mealy-mouthed liberal-democratic claptrap about “improving sustainability”.
I’m furious that the closer the NDP has come to power—and, to be fair to Mr. Mulcair, his predecessor Jack Layton was equally guilty—the less it has reflected its leftwing, progressive roots. I believe that Canadians are looking for a true alternative to the depradations of capitalism they witness every day, locally and internationally. They want the elimination of entrenched power elites and a more egalitarian society where the rule of law is equally applied and citizens pay their fair share.
The alternative of capitalism is not libertarian economics–that merely preserves the cruel philosophy of the survival of the richest, the most cunning and ruthless continuing to have their day. No, the only viable, credible ideology for a near future of shrinking resources, economic uncertainty and the perils accompanying climate change, is socialism. Undiluted and unapologetic, reflecting its root themes: class struggle, equality, human rights.
Socialism demands that we confront our problems together, none among us allowed to shirk responsibility—it’s a way of approaching the world that requires local cooperation, participation on a grassroots level. Councils and bodies created to deal with pressing concerns, the membership constantly rotating to avoid the accumulation of power and influence. The purest form of democracy I can envision.
I see little of that in the NDP platform. I see a lot of talk meant to placate the business and financial communities, letting them know they have nothing to fear from Tommy Mulcair and his crowd. They’re the “new” kind of New Democrats, hugging that yellow streak in the middle of the road, virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals (except for Justin’s commendable stance on marijuana).
At the conclusion of the meal, the Leader politely shakes my hand…then grabs an aide from a nearby table and as the two of them hustle off, it appears “our next Prime Minister” is savagely berating the poor man. I hear him growl “….and be sure to fire whatever dumb sonofabitch thought up this stunt in the first place.”
Ah, well. I tried.
The night is still young and Toronto offers some fine book stores.
Think I’ll go looking for a biography of Rosa Luxemburg.
Remember her, Tom?
There was a gal with the courage and integrity to match her convictions.
Can you, in all conscience, honestly say the same?