(Quick Addendum: this was over at Pacific Gazetteer’s place:
Thought you were living in a democracy? So we’ve been told. You remember the old refrain you probably tried out on your parents: “It’s a free country!”? Did it ever get you an extension on your bed time or permission to go out with that dodgy new friend? Likely not, but we liked to live with the idea that we would grow up to be autonomous be adults who would really have a say in how our free country was run. Too bad, so sad.
Yes, you do get to vote for who will represent your views. Tough choice: it usually comes down to a holding of the nose and choosing the least of several evils, from those of commission who willingly tear apart the fabric of society and leave individuals to fend for themselves, to those of omission who simply neglect to nurture the public interest, and where the outcomes are similar to, if somewhat attenuated or delayed, those achieved with the first group.
What seems to be happening of late, with its roots in the Reagan-Mulroney loveliest that gave us the FTA, is a complete abdication of the public trust where treaties are negotiated between sovereign nations that essential raise private companies to equal status in dealing with legislation and its enforcement, where even the potential profits, dreamed up by private concerns, get preferential consideration and override concerns of public welfare or environmental well-being. It extends to all official dealings the doctrine that business must be done solely to produce a return to shareholders, and that no social or environmental restraints should impede the pursuit of shareholder return. Once this becomes the theme of government, there is no further restraint on the corporate cavalcade and those not in the investor class must simply take their lumps because, hey! it’s the law of the land.
In the U.S., there is an additional mechanism for the abdication of responsibility to true citizens (as opposed to corporations and lobbyists) known as fast track authority, wherein the House of Representatives provides the negotiating team, through the President, I believe, the mandate to negotiate whatever they wish. In Canada, we call this a majority government in a parliament where MPs are much more beholden to the party through the whip than they are to the people who elected them (not to mention those who happen to live in the riding who may not have voted for that particular candidate), but who are nonetheless constituents and entitled to consideration in the deliberations of the Chamber.
This is all supposed to be a boon to the economy, but we need to keep asking ourselves which economy we want to promote. Our current slate of leaders all subscribe to the Chicago School/Washington Consensus model which places money at the centre of the universe and has everything else subservient. This is particularly convenient for those who have wads of money and especially for those who have converted cash into political clout who are able to absolve themselves of any responsibility with the idea that the market decides what works and what doesn’t. Strangely enough, this market phenomenon is also a human construct and, like the legal fiction that is a corporation, it masks activity that is all too human, primarily greed, rapacity and the fulfilment of grandiose ego. The market vacillations are the product of human action, and the beneficiaries of this system are keen to ensure that the economic playing field is tilted so that the preponderance of wealth ends up under their control. Bad behaviour seems always to be laid at the feet of the market, or, failing that, of a few bad-apple corporations, entities that seem immune to any sort of indemnisation for misdeeds and completely devoid of any moral sense. Even the officers of the corporation skate on piles of sins, even when it’s clear that there is no victimless crime, particularly when economic pain is as deep and broad as that inflicted on all of us in the last five years. The irony of the freemarket freebooters is that they were more than willing to have the government interfere with huge infusions of taxpayer cash and managed to do with it what they wanted rather than perhaps inject it into the small-to-medium sized sector of the business economy in the form of loans. On top of that, much of the money was to be had a little or no interest, but would be either sent out as loans at a vast profit, or used to create more risky derivative investment vehicles that look a lot like the junk that brought the economy to a grinding halt in 2008-09 and has lead to depleted pension funds and bankrupt community organizations and cities who took it on faith of financiers and ratings agencies that this junk was really AAA-quality investment.
It rather makes your puny little vote look even less significant than you thought, particularly when the ballot often resembles one of those telephone surveys where they keep asking you questions that miss the point and offering only answers that represent something other than what you really want to express. These thoughts apply not only here in the frozen North, but I’ve thought that the poor folks in the Ukraine must be feeling a little deprived when it comes to having their say: they get either Timochenko or Yanukovich, European Union or Russia, neoliberal bureaucracy or autocratic oligarchy. There is another way, but it never seems to come to the fore, in part because there are forces at work behind the scenes from both sides trying to push the country one way or another, partly because the other options all require stepping back from both options which will create some dislocation and economic pain. The EU and Russian options will also produce dislocation and pain, and for whatever future is foreseeable in the way that Greece has fallen into the clutches of the EU vultures, but a non-aligned and self-directed economy might well produce better results in the long run than either of the other options. We won’t likely get to find out as Ukranians are little more in control of their fate than we are. The consolation for them is that they are at least aware that they have a crisis on their hands and are willing to get together to try and influence the outcome. In that there is a lesson for Canadians.
So, since this is my post, I get to add a little directed entertainment at the end in the form of another musical social commentator, Georges Brassens ( to go with a couple of Tom Lehrer vids that got appended to other posts). I first ran across GB in 1971, but he had been a figure in the French music scene since the Forties, I believe. My stepson endeared himself to me forever when he brought back a CD boxed set of GB’s complete works in 1991, an item that I had been vainly trying to purchase out here on the Wet Coast for several years. He pokes fun at a lot of folks, including himself, though he would likely have been the least deserving of his targets, from what I can say. Here’s a tune, just to get the flavour of it:
Here’s a version with sketchy, but essentially correct, subtitles and where you actually get to see Brassens play and sing: