Thursday, December 22, 2016

Guest Post: An Incompatible Marriage

In response to my post the other day featuring some stellar letters from Star readers on inequality, regular commentator Pamela MacNeil offered an insightful analysis of the fundamental incompatibility between democracy and neoliberalism. Here is that analysis:

Governments who value Democracy, Lorne, will govern in the interests of people according to democratic principles. They will also add legally or otherwise to their country's democracy. They will do this to make their democracy stronger and more accessible to their citizens. This is what Nation Building is all about. Creating The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good example of strengthening democracy while further entrenching Nation Building.

The stronger the legislative roots upon which Democracy rests, the freer the country.

The more a government seeks to create policy without a democratic process, the greater the chance of that government becoming authoritarian.

Our present government and our previous governments have embraced neoliberal policy domestically and globally. "Neoliberals require a strong state that uses its power to create and enforce markets and prop them up when they fail." Their vision is a state governed by market transactions and not democratic practices. This is what Canadians are now witnessing.

Neoliberalism came later to Canada than to the U.S. and Britain because of the re-election of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. How ironic that it should be his son who is continually promoting neoliberalism and has made it the fundamental driver of his domestic and global policies.

Neoliberalism breeds inequality. Most progressives would defend democracy as a basic right. In neoliberalism "financial markets survive existenial crises only through state bailouts."

The economic inequality can best be seen in the decline of union memberships, the decline in the share of middle class income and the rise in the share of income taken by the top 10%. The goal of neoliberalism is to chip away at union power until it no longer threatens the realization of the market state.

How unequal and insignificant does your government consider you to be, when they, without public consultation, take billions of your dollars to bail out the corporate and financial elite who were the cause of one of the most major financial crisis in history?

There is nothing more important then freedom, freedom ingrained in law. Without democracy there is no freedom. Our government, which has already severed ties with Canadians, is busy trying to find ways to circumvent our constitution or dismantle our democracy in order to implement their neoliberal policies.

Neoliberalism and Democracy cannot survive together. It will be one or the other and right now neoliberalism, at least in Canada, appears to be winning.

How relevant is our democracy to Canadians? The battle ahead is a battle of ideas. Freedom and democracy or Neoliberalism and Tyranny. Will Canadians fight to take their country back or will they do nothing?

The choice is ours, and our time is running out.


  1. Pam's exactly right, Lorne. What lies ahead is a battle of ideas.

    1. Let us hope that the progressive side is suitably equipped to parry a barrage of empty ideological thrusts, Owen.

  2. Recall the recent study that concluded you can have global integration (globalism), state sovereignty or democracy but you cannot have all three. At least one must be sacrificed. This is the resultant scourge of neoliberalism. The outcome is what Pamela references.

    The question, however, isn't the affliction but how we resolve it. What are we going to do? How shall we get out from under this divisive and corrosive condition?

    As Sandra Waddock wrote recently in the Christian Science Monitor what we need isn't regime change but system change. This, in essence, is what Ralston Saul wrote a decade ago in "The End of Globalism."

    As Waddock contends, we have to champion a new narrative:

    "Tomorrow's narrative needs to be framed very differently from today's. It needs to recognize that economies are part of societies and nature but not the only important thing. A new narrative should frame the purpose of business very differently, taking different stakeholders and the natural environment into account. It could also provide a more reasonable and effective basis for resolving the key crises of our time, such as the warming planet and the growing gap between rich and poor.

    "Dignity and well-being can be enhanced, for instance, by emphasizing job creation and stability, fair wages and fair markets, rather than financial wealth, efficiency and growth. Measures like the Genuine Progress Indicator would incorporate well-being and individual dignity into the measure of an economy, as opposed to merely its activity, making it a great substitute for GDP or GNP."

    The engine warning light already glows red for the global economy. It's not going to last especially as climate change impacts increase, both in severity and in number, in the coming years.

    We must develop a narrative that is based on clearly stated principles that are defensible and we have to stand by those principles and champion their adoption.

    We know neoliberalism sucks. We know the environmental, political and social tolls it exacts. Realizing that, however, without more is pointless. If we can't offer something persuasively better and a map of how we can get there, we'll just stay right where we are today.

    1. Thanks for your always-informed analysis, Mound. Your suggestions are spot on, but I am haunted by the question Pamela poses at the end of her piece: "Will Canadians fight to take their country back, or will they do nothing?" I know that I must sound like a broken record (er, sorry, broken disc? corrupted file?) but without sufficient citizen passion and engagement, where are we left?

    2. The idea of a new narrative is what Charles Taylor's on about when he talks about "social imaginaries." We can't get to where we want to go with a mindset that focuses on our own individual accumulations. We have to remember that we once cared about solidarity (like Chomsky talked about earlier this year) and community. We can help through essays and stories and more detailed explanations of history - the personal stories of working together. But if somehow we could get popular media on board...

    3. Again, Marie, nothing is more potent than an informed populace. Unfortunately, the "getting and spending" our culture is obsessed with leaves little time for deep learning and reflection.

  3. In fairness, Lorne, Canadians won't "fight to take their country back" until they're offered a reason to take that risk. They need that narrative, that system to replace the neoliberal order. Progressivism took hold through a narrative of hope, a vision of a new way for society to be ordered. Without a persuasive and compelling option, the only fighting we'll see is shadow boxing. Sufficient "citizen passion and engagement" cannot emerge from a vacuum.

  4. Pamela MacNeil's analysis is spot on but it is MacNeil's final line that grabbed me when she says,"our time is running out." In light of what's happening globally, it sounds almost hopeful suggesting a possibility of us wakening before we slip over the precipice. I hold no such hope. As long as we continue to buy the same goods from pitchmen from different parties only to find them the same damaged goods we bought before, we will just sink deeper into the stinking morass. The Mound of Sound citing Waddock and Saul has correctly pinpointed what is needed but system change is not achievable as long as voters continue to only believe what they want to hear without challenging and questioning and demanding more from those they elect before they vote. Excellent article and comments. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Frank, for your comments. You clearly believe that citizens have a responsibility in this entire dynamic. If Pamela would like to respond further, I will leave it to her.