Saturday, August 29, 2015

Deficits, the left, and Twitter confusion. . .

I got into an interesting, though entirely unproductive, twitter exchange this morning concerning the issue of the Left and balanced budgets. It all began when someone posted a link on the issue of balanced budgets and the leftwing. The accompanying twitter statement was "if you think the NDP is rightwing to balance a budget, you need a history lesson." My simple reply was that "it is not rightwing to balance a budget, but it is rightwing to insist that all budgets have to be balanced." This set off a small storm in a teacup exchange with a blogger who I respect but who, I think, was confused about what I was saying. (To be fair, this confusion is easy to generate on Twitter where complex issues cannot be explained.)

Now, of course, it is easy to see that many leftwing governments have balanced budgets and many rightwing governments have failed to balance budgets. It is not rightwing or leftwing to balance a budget. But what I believe is rightwing is to buy the Neo-Liberal discourse on "fiscal responsibility" or "balanced budgets." For years, regardless of their poor performance on the issue, the corporatists and Neo-Liberals have attempted to generate the false notion that balancing budgets is an objectively good thing. But, of course, it isn't. The desirability or undesirability of a balanced budget depends entirely on the circumstances. It would be great, I suppose, if we were always awash with lots of cash and could always balance budgets while making the investments necessary for a better future. But those circumstances don't obtain and sometimes it is necessary to fall into deficit. The rightwing, (again, despite their poor performance on the matter) have attempted to generate a pubic discourse that always condemns deficits. And my claim is simple - it is rightwing to buy into this discourse.

Now, again to be fair, the original twitter post was one among many that is attempting to counter the rightwing claim that left of centre governments are 'fiscally irresponsible' and always fall into structural deficits. But there is something else at stake here. I think that many NDPers have pushed that envelope so far that they are failing to see that Mulcair has tipped the party into the realm of rightwing discourse. If you don't believe me watch the exchanges this week on CBC's Power and Politics between Andrew Thomson (the NDP candidate for Eglington-Lawrence) and the Liberal spokeswomen. (I am sorry, I can't remember her name offhand.) Thomson, a former NDP Minister from Saskatchewan, went after the Liberals like a good-old fashioned Tory for suggesting that they might run a temporary deficit in the cause of infrastructure spending. Instead of accepting the real nature of the Liberal claim (that they would earmark particular deficit spending for specific and temporary infrastructure programs) he went on like a Tory about how this was an open faucet of planned structural deficit spending. These attacks (and they went on for several days) from a high-profile NDP candidate, is a fairly basic demonstration of the way in which the NDP has adopted the rightwing discourse of balanced-budget madness.

Of course it is not rightwing to balance a budget or leftwing to run a deficit. But what my blogging colleague either didn't understand or intentionally misconstrued was my claim that it IS rightwing to fall into the discourse that budgets have to be balanced. Now, granted, I have never heard Mulcair specifically say that (though I have heard other NDP supporters make just such a claim). But what I was pointing out was that the NDP leadership has fallen into a rightwing discourse of balancing budgets as an objectively good thing. (The professed confusion on the part of my Twitter opponent was the claim that because I said that it is rightwing to INSIST that budgets have to be balanced, that I had therefore implied that it is not leftwing to balance a budget - unfortunately, it was a confusion hardly worthy of his intelligence) And this discourse has been nowhere more in evidence than in the NDP attacks on the Liberals for outlining a fairly modest (and actually very rational) plan for running a few small targeted deficits.

We cannot presently know how an NDP government would act once in power. Neither can we really know if Trudeau would, like past Liberals Governments, shift decidedly right once in power. What we do know (if we are paying attention) is that the NDP has shifted significantly in its discourse and accepted the corporatist discourse that eschews deficits as a terrible thing and lauds balanced budgets as though they will save the world.


Ben Burd said...

There is more than enough money in the budget to balance it and pay for the NDP platform --- Priorities it is where you spend the available money that counts.

Gyor said...

BINGO, the money is there, a deficit is not needed right now.

I Think what actual bothers some on the left and even creates the impression Tom is more rightwing then he is is his way of speaking and terminology.

the salamander said...

.. seems to me that at all costs, current discussions, mainstream media & Indy articles, blogs etc should focus on the secrecy and obstruction of the Harper Government regarding Canada's finances, economy & diplomacy. Falling into typical Harper wedge traps are foolish responses to obvious Harper strategy.

Canadian voters need to be told in simple terms, where Harper is throwing away their tax dollars, where he hides or claws back tax dollars, where he intentionally does not spend our tax dollars, and how he used General Motors shares sold at a loss to manipulate his 'budget' into his holy 'Immaculate Surplus' status.

In broad terms Canadian voters need to understand how and why Harper is selling our natural resources out.. to China.. and why he is converting Canada's Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs ministries into crude economic export functionaries.

The Duffy Scandal is a great example for Canadians of how Harper, enablers or sellout mainstream media try to change the channel.. By saying that a 'gift' of 90 thousand to ensure tax payers were not on the hook for the culpable and dastardly Duffy.. can hardly compare to the untold and now legendary millions upon millions Liberals were handing to Adscam thugs, friends and party peeps. That creates a smokescreen for the real crime - the obstruction, conspiracy and coverup of the entire operation run at the highest level of government and Party - that's the story Harper does not want to defend or allow to remain visible.. 'its just Duffy/Nigel & I fixed it'

That's the kind of argument or surplus - deficit fairy tale Harper favors... just like terrorism.. things are black or white and in small word bites you're either onside with kind gentle wise Stevie or you're a dangerous extremist. Somebody keeps telling me 'don't feed the trolls' and from what I see that's all we're doing with Harper.. We need to launch huge bold bitter salvos at him via Indy and Mainstream using similar tactics but based on simple fact.

Anonymous said...

One way to appreciate why 'lefties' don't want deficits: because we're mortgaging our financial independence to capitalist entities. The less we borrow, the less we enrich the 1%. As you remind us, we should always use borrowing as a financial tool to invest in long-term projects.

That said, I'm a big believer in funding activities from TWO budgets:
1. A current account budget, which operates on an annual basis and which (by legislation) can never go into deficit (not a 'rightie' perspective, but more one of 'prudent person / keeping your house in order' perspective).
2. A capital account budget that is financed by borrowing and which is repaid over the life-time of those capital investments. For example, borrowing $100 billion to finance infrastructure projects that are funded by fares, tolls and other levies or possibly even not funded at all with a reminder that some public projects result in vastly expanded efficiencies (ie. more people working or getting to work on time or more tourists to a national park, etc etc etc).

Scotian said...

Anyone that believes the figures this government out out prior to a full audit of the books is delusional, I don't care what party you support.

There is also a clear need for major infrastructure rebuilding in this nation, that was starting to become clear when the Libs last came to power and were unable to really do anything then because of the economic realities then. However, there appears to be near unanimous consensus that this is the time to spend into deficit to make such massive rebuilding investments given how cheap borrowing cash is and likely to stay for some time from economists across the political spectrum, including those traditionally aligned with the right/private sector. So this is not only a powerful jobs program needed in its own right, it is also a long term investment into economic growth at a more fundamental level which is also badly needed. Which makes the attack approach by that NDP candidate and clearly intended primary candidate for future NDP Finance Minister that much more problematic on the point in what Kirby is saying in his post. I saw that exchange too, and I was surprised not that the Dipper candidate conflicted with the Libs here, but on the basis that he did, just as Kirby highlights.


I'm not surprised you are getting this blowback, it has become increasingly clear that the new NDP is all about saying whatever is necessary to gain/hold power instead of coming at issues from a principled and thought out position first, and that somehow because it is the NDP saying so makes it OK/progressive/left in nature whereas anyone else saying the same is castigated for not being progressive enough (scarily enough it reminds me of the religious zealots who think if it is for God it is a good but otherwise an action would be the blackest of evils, and that mentality terrifies me whenever I see it wherever I see it). It isn't the ideology so much anymore as it is the naked avarice and lust for power that worries me most about the Mulcair NDP. It was bad enough under Layton, but Layton I could believe was an "ends justifies the means" case, in that if he came to power he might well have then used it for traditional NDP goals given his long history within the party. Mulcair though, Mulcair is an entirely different creature, and his record is far more of a typical say what needs to be said to gain/hold power with far less true examples of commitment to things beyond that, with the one exception that Dippers like to trot out that supposedly proves he is a true environmentalist and Dipper. For me one data point does not a pattern create.

Part of the reason I traditionally tended to go Lib was because I saw in them a party that was not bound to a narrow ideology and tended to be more pragmatist and practical willing to take good ideas wherever they came from without worrying about ideological purity. In the days of Harper and Mulcair I am finding myself renewed in that preference, but not just from the leaders but from the behaviour of their partisans/followers.

BTW, I believe that Lib candidate in that segment was Crystia Freeland of recent Mens Club fame.