Sault Ste. Marie, Op-Ed | Election 2015: It’s Not the Economy Stupid

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“There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what happened.”

This fall we go to the polls in a federal election.  So far, the election campaign has centered on the economy, and in particular how each of the party candidates plan to bolster the local economy. Claims such as the Port of Algoma “project would likely fit into an infrastructure fund and would meet the criteria with the estimated 1,800 jobs created and provide an additional $2 million GDP” abound.

All slip ups aside – we all know the 1800 number that continues to be bandied about represents the end estimate for ‘person years’, not jobs, which translates into about 17 “direct, indirect and induced employment potential opportunities on an annual basis” all for the bargain basement sale price of $5.3 million and counting public tax dollars going to subsidize this private sector profit machine – how, precisely, is this economic scheme good?

What about those who do not want to work, perhaps preferring instead to raise a family, contribute to the voluntary sector or pursue life ambitions that benefit our community?  Or those who’d rather not contribute to the produce-consume treadmill, or get a job just so they can produce needless junk to expose their children to asthma-inducing air pollution, toxics-laced drinking water? Or perhaps those who want to engage with historical and cultural activities rather than economic activities such as the arts, First Nations cultures, or recreational and sports activities?

No one should be forced through economic coercion to get a job merely to pay the bills.  That’s the definition of communism, and it stinks as much as does greedy capitalism.  It demonstrates an utter disregard for social inequalities that, despite sanctimonious claims of equality and fairness, fly in the face of reality in Canada in 2015. People should have a choice, and a choice of jobs, where demand always outstrips supply, is no choice at all.  Frankly, I’m fed up listening to local candidates explain how they’ll generate thousands of low paying dead end McJobs while ignoring our quality of life.

Instead of crappy jobs to grow an overinflated, excessively consuming, increasingly unfair economy, why not discuss options that improve our communities and quality of life while giving people some choice and freedom?

The Green Party, for instance, have resolutions for a guaranteed livable income.  The Green Party goes so far as to suggest the forgiveness of student debt and free post-secondary tuition – as was the case barely a half century ago in Canada.  What has this country become when we cannot offer Canadians – you and I – choice, or the freedom to be enlightened free from economic coercion?

The Liberal Party platform for their part is offering to double the annual budget of the Canadian Council for the Arts, despite their obvious economically ideology. Increasing the budget for the arts isn’t going to help a lot of artisans who will still have to slave over proposals and beg for their grants.

“What?” you say. “We could never afford ideas like those?”

Need we be reminded that corporate taxes have fallen to 15% under the current government, a mere shadow of what they were (90%) when we did have free education.  Clearly we can afford ideas like free education and a guaranteed livable income.  In a democracy, like Canada once was, it should never come to the golden rule.

Be that as it may, the current government, largely responsible, with their massive election war chest, for driving the economic mirage, has, and I quote from a July 2015 study, “the worst (economic) record of all our governments in the postwar years.”  Ranking last or second last in 13 of 16 economic performance indicators, this result helps demonstrate why the same government is so averse to information sharing.  And let us not forget that this is a government, after 10 years of relative control, has managed to just barely, dubiously, lift their heads above the surface after squandering a $13.8 billion surplus whence they took office, increased the give-away to the wealthiest Canadians by $30 billion annually, and reduced overall federal revenues by $43 billion each year over the last ten for a total of $430 billion since taking over.

Really?  We can’t afford a guaranteed livable income for each and every Canadian, free post- secondary education and debt forgiveness for some of the poorest amongst us?  A half a trillion dollars only since the last federal government seems like a tremendous amount of slack in a system like Canada for establishing an economy that is fair, just and compassionate.

But it doesn’t stop there.  The International Monetary Fund recently warned that Canada subsidies – yes directly, supports some of the wealthiest corporations to the tune of $34 billion each year to fleece Canadians of the natural landscapes, health and resources in Alberta – tar sands.  And that doesn’t include the healthcare costs, wasted resources, polluted water and air, and emotional, psychological and physical suffering from those afflicted downstream.

Then, as though salt in the wound could make things worse, we have corporate CEOs from Alberta come here – orchestrated with media precision – to tell us that our McJobs depend on expanding national and international pipelines and transportation corridors to get that bitumen to market as if getting it there is the best thing since sliced bread.  It’ll create jobs, they all chant, as if a steel pipe laying on the ground needs constant caretakers so it doesn’t bleed all over the Mackinaw Straights, Lake Nipissing or anywhere else along its 6000 km corridor. Well surprise!  Technology does that caretaking so efficiently that sometimes those corporations actually let the pipes bleed for, oh, a couple weeks before running around at the sight of spilled oil promising to take care of everything.

It’s like the healthcare system: let’s make people sick and then try to cure them…just to raise GDP.

So far, and despite decades of trying, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support claims that economic growth improves our well-being, quality of life or happiness.  When the oil spills GDP rises and jobs are created.  Are we really better off?

In fact, what the research does show us is that once a threshold is reached – about $12,000 per person – additional income and economic growth does little to improve our well-being and health.

Indeed, what is clear is that it’s not so much how much we earn, but who receives it (that is, how fairly it’s distributed).  How wealth and political influence is distributed makes all the difference in the world.  Clearly, Canada has one of the best political systems in the world that money can buy. And buy it does. Just ask any of those wealthy Canadians enjoying an increasingly large gap in their incomes.

A recent article discussed a coal mine in Australia that was intending to expand.  Knowing that the profits generated for shareholders to cause significant environmental destruction and social disruption of such an expansion would be politically untenable (“bulldoze a tiny historic village in the name of foreign shareholders”), the company had an economic impact study completed in which it claimed – notwithstanding all the assumptions that went into that claim making the claim, at best, absurd – that 44, 000 person years of employment would be created.  Of course, buried in that report was the definition of a person year of employment along with all the absurd assumptions.  Needless to say, the executive summary claimed 44, 000 jobs (“a figure that is more than double the entire … mining industry’s employment level today.”)

If that doesn’t sound familiar, you fall into the third category of people listed above.  In case you missed it, that is the very same deception going on locally, and one has to ask ‘why?’, or more important, ‘why hasn’t local media challenged this number?’  What most people don’t consider is that expanding healthcare, social services and environmental protections and conservation will generate more direct and indirect jobs, and most certainly have a far greater benefit for our quality of life than would huge sums of taxpayers money being thrown at a private sector project intended to benefit private owners with potentially enormous impacts on our air, water, health, wellbeing and wealth gap.  Would GDP grow as much, even if deceptive economic witchcraft were absent?  Shrug. Who cares!  It’s still the economy.

Clearly we do have a choice between austerity and improved wellbeing, but we need to start talking about wellbeing and stop talking about the economy.

We had all better start paying attention because current election campaign has centered on how to create that absurd number of jobs – not on whether it’s even possible, or, more importantly, whether we even want that.  What kind of society have we developed when the only choice in life is to contribute to a productive machine that’s eating up this planet, and inhabitants, faster than it, or they, can repair themselves?

There’s a great comic that shows a group of very wealthy and presumably politically influential business men (and yes, they are all men) slapping their thighs bent over in hysterics.  The caption reads, “We told them the wealth would trickle down!”

From the sounds of the election discourse focusing on the economy, it seems we’ve bought that hook, line and sinker.

How could it have come to this?  How do you possibly get people to vote for politicians and policies that make them poorer and less able to cope, unhealthy and frustrated?  You bury the assumptions, write thick reports, fill the airwaves with double speak and then let politicians take over and distort those economic claims, as absurd as they are to begin with, until they sound normal, like the only game in town.  And they start by owning the media outfits that report the nightly news so they can spread their message, unchallenged by most reporters, of “1,800 jobs created” and the “additional $2 million GDP” clearly through the loudest buffoon willing to speak such nonsense during the (painfully long) election campaign.  Then you make damn sure there’s no accountability so no one can say ‘I told you so.’

Job creation?  Economic coercion.  Economic growth?  Unbreathable air, and undrinkable water. Higher incomes?  Unsafe communities, inequalities and busier lives.  This is what the current election campaign tells us we want?  Really?

By engaging in the numbers game and using dozens of dubious assumptions, economic modelling and economic coercion has replaced solid debate in this election campaign.  Economic campaigning isn’t even a poor proxy for what’s important to most people.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong” – H.L. Mencken. Job creation, economic growth and a rising tide is just that answer.  The problem is, no one is talking about the question. Let’s stop all this talk about the economy and start talking about what really counts: people and the well-being of communities. Let’s stop talking about the economy and start asking: is there a better way?  Once we get to that stage, that’ll change everything.

owl_feather

we told them

 

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