Friday, September 18, 2015

The Debate and Vision. . .

I wonder what people will make of the G&M's David Parkinson's article on Justin Trudeau this morning. Is this a sign of things to come? The thrust of the article is that Trudeau is the only of the three main leaders who is offering something new, something that challenges some of the economic assumptions that have constituted the mainstream for the past decade. (Of course, Parkinson's failure to mention Elizabeth May and the clearly new challenge that the Green Party represents is both predictable and unfortunate.) However, if we stick to the established parties, there is certainly something in what Parkinson has to say.

Parkinson's best insight, though very limited in scope, is when he challenges the real meaning behind Harper's economic efforts. When thinking about Harper's effort to lower taxes and balance the budget, Parkinson asks "So what was the point?" Good question I'd say. "If we imagined that these were means to an end, that once achieved there would be a grand plan cashing in the dividend from all that hard work, we were wrong." Wrong indeed! This is because the simple fact is that the ends to which Harper's Neo-Liberal policies are directed are not a better and more prosperous society, but rather, greater wealth for the rich and corporations, deeper economic inequality, and a more precarious workforce with less leverage to make demands. If Parkinson understood this, he would never expected any pot of gold at the end of Harper's supposed economic rainbow. So, ten out of ten to Mr. Parkinson for seeing the dearth of reward from Harper's effort, but minus a few million for failing to understand the real economic goal here.

Parkinson is right in part when he concludes his article with the observation that among the big three, "only Mr. Trudeau offered a vision of something new." Now, before people go crazy telling me that Trudeau represents the same old Neo-Liberal agenda that was begun my the Chretien/Martin Liberals, let me clarify this. One of the primary thrusts of new economic ideas (publicly spear-headed in part by writers like Thomas Pikkety) is the need for huge infrastructure investments in order to ensure the future of Western nations whose primary post-war investments in this area have now broken down. Part of this argument is that the huge infrastructure investments of the post-war period were one of the primary factors in the long-boom that ended in the 1970s. Since then the Neo-Liberal agenda has allowed this infrastructure to slowly wither and die, keeping it alive only by a patchwork of bandaid solutions. In this sense there is something very important in what Trudeau is saying. And the Liberals are in part also right when they say that you can't have a Tommy Douglas expansion on a Stephen Harper budget. The great infrastructure investments were made at a time of much higher taxation and much higher government revenue vis-a-vis GNP.

Thus, I would say that there are two important ways that the NDP has ceded progressive ground to the Liberals. One is that they have talked even less than the Liberals about the environment in an election where the environment has been conspicuously absent. And two, they have failed to take on board even the mainstream economic thinking which is making infrastructure investments central. New clean-energy technologies, a revitalization of our education system, huge reinvestments in our healthcare, any visionary politician must make these the absolute core of the way forward. If Thomas Mulcair believes in any of these things he certainly hasn't articulated them adequately. Meanwhile, by not getting bogged down in anti-deficit fetishism, Trudeau is scoring real points in the 'vision' department.


Owen Gray said...

If this election campaign has made anything clear, Kirby, it's that Tom Mulcair's NDP has taken a 180 degree turn away from Tommy Douglas' NDP.

Anonymous said...

I think you are ignoring the reality of the situation. Mr. Trudeau will ultimately report to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). The same old. And let me be clear, there is no vision in that. Time to try something new.

Gyor said...

Trudeau's vision is basically Harper's recycled 2008 vision, because Harper too run up massive deficits paying for pet projects in the name of stimulas.

You seem to think Harper and Trudeau are the progressives, I think Mulcair and Tommy Douglas are the visionaries because they build long term institutions that will benifit your childern and your childern's childern. I guess we're different that way.

Lorne said...

An insightful analysis, Kirby. I was left with the same impression; in a campaign that has grown progressively (I know I shouldn't use that word) drearier with its dearth of vision, Trudeau's proposal to spend on infrastructure, especially when the costs of borrowing are so low, makes eminent sense. In the post-debate analysis on the CBC, Susan Ormiston that said we currently have an infrastructure debt of about $400 billion. Beginning to address this is long past due.

Les Smith said...

It seems more probable to that he scored points on looking like he had a vision. (*)
Sadly, there have been more than enough clues that Trudeau's thinking doesn't really extend much beyond partisan posturing and electoral calculus.

Indications were clear early on. He went on the CBC's "Canada Reads" years ago supporting one book, but eventually cast the vote that gave the victory to another. The only really plausible explanation for his defection is that his changed vote might make him look better in Quebec.
It was clear to me at the time that 1) he was planning to run for Prime Minister, and 2) he would be more of the same thing we've come to expect from the Liberals.

C-51 was another very clear indication - not so much that he supported it rather than risk Harper's response to a more principled stance, but for his subsequent reaction, in which he was a little miffed that the public seemed to have taken the matter seriously. ( After all, what's an unaccountable secret police force compared to getting the party positioned for best advantage? )

Don't think, however, that this means I'm all that delighted with Mulcair. Clearly we're getting Canada's answer to "New Labour" with him, but at least he's surrounded by people with at least reasonable progressive bona-fides.


In the interest of full disclosure, it has been years since I could bring myself to watch a broadcast debate. They're worse than useless in an age of intensive media training for politicians.

Kirbycairo said...

@ Gyor I'm sorry, but if you think that I believe that Trudeau and Harper are progressive, then you really need to read my blog more carefully

These are predictable and rather hackneyed responses to what I have said. There is no question that Trudeau is part of the Neo-Liberal agenda. But anyone who believes that Mulcair is not also part of that agenda has not been paying attention. The only party that is not wholesale buying the Neo-Liberal agenda is the Greens. The issue here is this - the only break-out aspect of mainstream economics in the past forty years has been the call for greater infrastructure investment. It is a part of a partial return of Keynesianism in mainstream economics, and has even become part of the IMF and World Bank agendas after nearly 30 years of austerity and structural adjustment. It is a form of neo-Keynesianism and not really radical at all, but still arguably an important part of the move away from Neo-Liberalism. For good or bad, Trudeau is the only one who is taking up that banner among the main three parties. Now, this hardly makes Trudeau a progressive, and Anonymous above might be right and the Liberals might not even be authentic on this issue and may regress to their old ways. But let's make it clear I have been to the left of the NDP for 35 years, which was once a fairly radical position. Today being left of the NDP doesn't take much radicalism at all. And if you think that the NDP is left of the Liberals then you haven't read the policies of either. I lived in England when Tony Blair was elected and watched many people become apologists for "New Labour." History proved those people to be desperately wrong because Labour become no different from the Tories. As Les Smith says above, NDP has become our own "New Labour" and it is sad. You can certainly argue that a few years of infrastructure spending is hardly visionary, but a nation of blind men even a person with a little bit of sight seems remarkable. (Again, if we want to look for real vision then look to the leader who was excluded from last night's debate.)

Anonymous said...

If you had a time machine and could engineer an election, you could run a little experiment: Have the CPC elected and lead Canada for 10 years, then go back and have the Liberals elected and leave Canada for 10 years, and finally the same for the NDP. In such a scenario you could see what the real differences after 10 years would be.

My hypothesis is that any differences would be effectively cosmetic.

Unknown said...

I agree with you about Trudeau Kirby.People and their decisions have to be understood in context. Of course Trudeau is Neoliberal, but maybe what were talking about here is degrees of Neoliberalism and Trudeau is the lesser of the 3. Economically infrastructure investment is crucial and he seems to be the only one talking about it and how he will go about doing it. For anyone who has studied Harper closely, one cannot help but come to the realization of how profoundly incompetent he really is and that he has been in way over his head from the beginning.I do not sense that level of incompetency with Trudeau.