Today’s glittering may be flames, not gold

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Peter Gauthier’s column in the Pontiac Journal shouldn’t be missed, issue after issue; he’s bang on, even-handed and marshals facts for his arguments, not anecdotes. His headlines are not always eye-grabbing, but to overlook even one column would be a shame. Not much media of any form offers us his quality and thoughtfulness.
Here’s what I mean. In 2014, Mr Gauthier wrote a column about Canada’s general economy and economic progress under Mr Harper, who, still in office, was claiming then to have lead Canada to a magnificent recovery from the real estate/banking crash of 2007-11. Mr Harper cited figures, but Our Man in the Pontiac looked at the same figures across the OECD, and compared them with Canada’s. The OECD is the 35-member group of developed economies. Peter’s view provided much more information, and while he did not contradict Mr Harper’s self-praise, he uncovered the incredible wealth expansion of the very rich in Canada, with stagnation of earnings for everyone else and more people working for minimum wage than ever in our history.
This surprisingly disproportionate shift of wealth (and power) to the already-wealthy and powerful has been a world-wide phenomena, a result of globalisation and selling off of public goods, services and resources – with which Mr Harper would agree, apparently, calling this the rewards of liberalized world trade where the corporate world blooms, unfettered by nation-state regulations and regional concerns.
Yet our nation motors along, thanks to our mind-boggling natural resources. It would be interesting to  calculate value of each of us, Canadians, as “owners” of our own natural resources. We’d each be a millionaire, on paper!
Globalization has certainly unleashed economic activity. Everybody’s selling everything, everywhere, and because the competition’s so great, prices are driven down, and even more resources have to be fed into the machine to maintain profit levels. Not good for the planet, we’ve now noticed, nor the climate, nor other creatures and species, biodiversity, on and on. 
And the moral arguments have come out. Either excessive profit-taking is “immoral”, or regulation of human initiative is “bad”; all political sides have their
positions – and they’re largely made in moral terms. Yes, poverty and lack of education generate huge social costs and problems – and threats to the social order – but even these are expressed mostly in moral outrage (and, yes, these results are outrageous).
But there’s another problem: globalization and privatization, de-regulation, tax cutting and consequent cuts to social services, are more than “immoral”: they are genuine security risks. They threaten us, all of us.  The ultra-rich have their hideaways, but the rest of us are wide open to the social chaos that has
always been the result of excessive wealth dis-equilibrium throughout all of history.
This excessive and vugar transfer of wealth to the ultra-rich, history tells us, is de-stabilizing to the extreme.
Oppressed peoples and slaves revolted, over and over, colonialized tribes, barbarians, swept in to topple vast empires. Why would we think this dynamic, this historical process, is finished?  When did it end?
The French Revolution, Mother of revolutionary excess, was the poor and middle classes overthrowing the extravagantly wealthy royalty and their landowning supporters; no one questions the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban Revolutions’ similar cause: excessive wealth (and power) in the hands of a few.
No doubt Canada has little to fear in terms of armed revolution, or similar drama, but we will certainly – guaranteed – get sucked into the undertow and whirlpools generated by upheavals in the USA (and in China which is enjoying/suffering the same growing disequilibrium). Our longest undefended border is also the world’s longest un-insulted border.
Look at Mr Gauthier’s numbers from 2014; look at Mr Harper’s (he has a new book coming out this year). Our nation can contribute to the problem, or we can turn toward a more human and compassionate approach that might deter the chaos.
Gauthier outlined this cautionary tale of our times, the real danger of today’s massive inequalities of wealth.  Moral or immoral, liberalizing or liberating, wealth disequilibrium is the road to chaos and damage, no matter which side wins,
if any side can win.  Moralizing doesn’t move everyone.
Self-preservation should.