Harnessing Discontent to Build Rather than Destroy

There are powerful forces in our world unleashed by growing inequality.   They are a significant part of where Donald J Trump found the people who were so angry they stopped thinking and voted for him.  They fueled Brexit.  They are being used to whip up anti-immigrant and religious hatred across Europe.  A key source of inequality has been the series of trade deals designed by huge corporations for their benefit and the benefit of those who own them at the expense of workers whose jobs are disappearing, wages and benefits shrinking.  Youth are looking at futures significantly worse off than their parents.  Huge debts, unstable work opportunities with no hope of the home ownership their parents enjoyed.  They will not have the homes they grew up in.  Some inequality facts:



This is a global phenomena




There are positive visions that we can adopt to build a better world and there are negative ones that can be used to destroy and sew chaos.   Stirring hate between groups for political purposes – the politics of lies, fear, hatred, violence and revenge – has often been a tactic of political extremists from the right and left.  The outcomes legitimize the worst fringe extremists.   A warped nationalism is often part of the tactics.   “Just as love for one individual that excludes love for others is not love, love for one’s country that is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”  Eric Fromm, The Sane Society.  The America first rhetoric is idolatrous worship.  We need to turn to the positive visions.

A vision of Global Co-operation as explored in my book or Rutger Bregman’s proposal for a ‘universal basic incomes’ to eliminate poverty in his book Utopia for Realists are both visions of a better world.  They seek not to pit people against each other but to link hands and spirits in a common constructive endeavour.  Both ideas would eliminate poverty.  Both would provide space for people to make the contribution to society they wish to make.

But is it realistic to think bold new visions are more than idle dreams?  Says Bregman:  “I’ve heard for three years that many of my ideas are unrealistic and unreasonable and that we can’t afford them,” he says, by way of preamble to a more comprehensive reply. “And the simple answer is ‘Oh, you want to stick to the status quo? How’s that been working out?’” (Andrew Anthony in the Guardian 26 Oct 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/26/rutger-bregman-utopia-for-realists-interview-universal-basic-income?CMP=fb_gu)  Growing inequality into the foreseeable future may be someone’s vision but it is surely even less realistic.  It is insane.

People who see themselves and their children being sacrificed to feed growing inequality should be angry.  And they can and should do something.  They will get more satisfaction out of building a better world than being betrayed by the false promises of billionaires who unlike them do not pay taxes.

The Sane Society by Eric Fromm

Published in 1955 this book still has a lot of relevant thinking.  For example:  “Exploitation as it developed in the nineteenth century was essentially different.  The worker, or rather his labor, (became) a commodity to be bought by the owner of capital… .   Exploitation was not personal anymore, it had become anonymous as it were.  It was now the law of the market that condemned a man to work for starvation wages rather than the intention or greed of any individual person.”   This is different from slavery and from a feudal relationship between an aristocrat and his vassal and yet is really more the same than different.

An further on: “The fact remains the same, that a man, a living human being, ceases to be an end in himself and becomes the means for the economic interests of another man, or of himself, or of an impersonal giant, the economic machine.”  Fromm’s point is that to be used this way erodes a person’s mental health.

Trudeau Government Breaks Electoral Reform Promise

An Open Letter                                                                               8 February 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

I do not often write letters to leaders of majority governments because they almost never listen, but on this issue I feel compelled to do so.  I am appalled by the decision to ditch electoral reform.  Why?  Not because you staked your integrity on it.  (Although you did.)  You are after all in charge of your integrity.  There is a route out of this bad decision suggested below but first let me tell you why this is not a good decision.

  1. This leaves the door open to a “trump style’ government here. The US election shows that using the tried tactics of the political right – the politics of lies, fear, hatred, violence and revenge – it was even possible to elect a self-confessed sexual predator, who attacks science, who is a billionaire who does not pay taxes and is proud of it, who is a compulsive liar and who believes in stoking up the fear and hatred that leads to violence.  He won with almost 50% of the vote.   In this country with our current electoral system, 36-39% of the vote representing 24-26% of eligible voters, can get us back to a worse than Harper-like government with a majority.  (Was Harper ‘Trump with a fig leaf’?)   Is that really what we want for Canada?
  2. To then hear you express concern about radical parties hijacking the governing process was astounding. There is no compelling evidence for this in the history of Canadian minority governments, but, lots of experience that you have just ensured the far right in Canada another crack at destroying the country.
  3. For years in my beloved Canada we have lived with a quasi-democracy. 60+% of our people can be and are regularly ignored.  This is a system that protects ‘elite power’ over democracy.  The last election saw an increase in the percent of eligible voters going to the polls.  If you do not change your position on this, the next election will see a disturbing drop.  Why should 60% bother to vote?  Is this what your government wants?
  4. We have just had a decade of government that did not listen to evidence. A government that muzzled scientists and ignored evidence based analysis.   Up to now your government has undone much of the worst ignoring of evidence of the Harper era.  The experts who presented evidence at the parliamentary committee overwhelmingly recommended proportional representation.  They were ignored!  The best form of proportional representation will not be decided by social media facades run by slick public relations companies but by careful and thoughtful leadership.  I refuse believe you cannot show leadership.
  5. There is very strong evidence that people all over the world are losing faith in the business and political elites. Those who describe themselves as middle class, in Canada and abroad, are shrinking.   Graduates face an unstable work future carrying massive debts.   People see the wealthy grab almost every cent of gains in economic growth and productivity.   Trust in political institutions and business is shrinking.  Being told that our voting system, that ignores 60% of the people, will not be reformed adds to that distrust.  The growing distrust is destabilizing.  We are witnessing the election of far right wing governments south of us, across Europe and around the world.  We could join them.   Is that really what you want?
  6. You need to decide if you are the Prime Minister of all the people in Canada or just the unprogressive wing of the Liberal party or the ‘back room boys’. What do you really want?
  7. Are people afraid of minority governments?  As a former advisor to your father Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, I can tell you one of the best governments this country ever had was the minority 1972 – 1974 Trudeau government.  It was neither perfect nor easy but it was good for Canada.  Arguably the worst government we ever had was the 2011 to 2015 Harper majority government.  I will not even begin to list the severe damage to our nation that occurred.  I believe another minority Trudeau government would be far, far better.   It would be better because, if elected by proportional representation, MPs representing more than half of the people, would have to co-operate.  Is that something you do not want?
  8. What unites 71.5% of Canadians? The statement in the ERRE online consultation: “Canada’s electoral system should ensure that the number of seats held by a party in Parliament reflects the proportion of votes it received across the country.”

If you want analysis, numbers and facts to back up the claims above, please do not hesitate to ask.   I spent time in Ottawa and I have faith that you and almost all of you colleagues do want to build a better Canada.  The most destructive thing you can do to our country is to leave this unfair voting system in place.   I stopped supporting the Liberal party because of cynical decisions like this.

That said, I can see the possibility of the next 150 years shaped by a government in which a number of political parties work together expressing the will of the majority rather than the dictates of the minority.   Most people I talk to are not supportive of your decision.  We all make mistakes.   Listen.  Say you listened and then set a new course.

Electoral reform can be done.  We can have a proportional representation system in time for the next election.  The government can strike an electoral commission made up of experts on proportional representation along with a bright, public spirited MP from each party.  Give them a year to design a system.  Don’t ask for unanimity – 75% would be just fine and reasonable.

Please do not sacrifice Canada for hoped-for electoral gain.

With Best Regards,

Tom Webb

232 Main Street

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

B0J 2E0

An Economy for the 1%

“The Oxfam report An Economy for the 1%, shows that the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38 percent. This has occurred despite the global population increasing by around 400 million people during that period. Meanwhile, the wealth of the richest 62 has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76tr. The report also shows how women are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current ‘62’, 53 are men and just nine are women.”  https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2016-01-18/62-people-own-same-half-world-reveals-oxfam-davos-report

This is the opening paragraph describing Oxfam’s newest report on inequality released for the DAVOS meetings .  It is this performance by the global capitalist economy that fuels the unrest that is opening the door to the politics of lies, fear, hatred, violence and revenge.  Elders are told their pensions are no longer secure and there will soon be too many of them to care for.  Young people are told to forget stable careers, having pensions and benefits, paying off huge student loans or owning a home.  Parents see a bleak future for their children and grandchildren. This is not the output of a functional economy but a faltering one.

Is this the climate that could allow millions of good people who are desperate for change to be manipulated by the politics of lies, fear, hatred, violence and revenge to vote for a billionaire who does not pay taxes, cannot seem to tell the truth and who is a self-confessed sexual predator?   Is this what causes angry and bewildered people to elect a leader who will cut government services, lower taxes on corporations and the rich, and allow destruction of the environment their grandchildren will inherit?

From Corporate Globalization to Global Co-operation suggests an alternative.  There are practical steps young people and elders can take.  Many people took steps to shift to an alternative during the Standing Rock demonstrations in North Dakota.  More about that in a later post.  In the meantime read the Oxfam’s report, An Economy for the 1%.  Then think about how we can create a new economy individually and in groups.

What You Pay for Capitalism

A Book on what it costs to prop up Capitalism?
What does it cost to prop up an increasingly unstable post capitalist economic system? The 2008 crisis cost an estimated $20+ Trillion USD globally. And this was just a slightly bigger than normal blip. There are a lot of insights in Joyce Nelson’s book Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, from Watershed Sentinel Books. https://watershedsentinel.ca/beyond-banksters/

Nelson sheds light on a law suit that is slowly moving through the Canada’s court system that would require the Bank of Canada to return to financing federal, provincial and local governments as it did prior to 1974. Since then our governments have borrowed at significantly higher interest rates from our big banks – much to their profit.

The cost to citizens of Canada has been in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
And what do we get for this shift? Stagnating incomes of middle class Canadians, growing income inequality and of course a decreasing ability for government to serve Canadians. We cannot afford to educate children, pay rising healthcare costs, look after the elderly or protect our environment. The purpose of the banks, who are the recipients of the higher interest rates on government borrowing, is to provide people with financial services or build a healthy economy but to maximize the returns to their shareholders.

This is a clearly written, well researched book. If you want a short introduction to help you decide this is a book you want to read try Ed Finn’s review at: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2017/01/16/beyond-banksters-eye-opening-expose-ravenous-financial-system/

This is a book that should be on every university student’s curriculum so they can better understand why their future will not likely allow them to pay down their student debt or find a career. Remember, when it comes to those who run Canada, the bankers come first.