Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Voice in the Wilderness

In Saturday's Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson reviews Lament for America: Decline of the Superpower, Plan for Renewal, by Earl Fry of Brigham Young University. What is interesting about the book -- aside from Fry's analysis -- is that it has been published by the University of Toronto Press -- which, Simpson notes, is "hardly a household name in U.S. publishing circles."

Apparently, no American press -- university or otherwise -- has seen its way to publishing the book. And that, writes Simpson, is tragic, "because piling fact on fact, Prof. Fry outlines his country's immense and largely self inflicted problems, starting with an increasingly polarized political system lubricated by money and barnacled by lobbyists." Fry predicts that

bogged down in future years by the twin deficits (government and current account) which have required it to borrow most of the surplus savings accumulated in the rest of the world, and saddled with a weaker and more erratic currency, the United States will be hard pressed to sustain its role as the world's superpower.

We Canadians have no right to gloat. Like the previous U.S. administration, the present Canadian government blew through a $12 billion surplus in less than two years. During the last election, Mr. Harper and company claimed that there would be no recession in Canada -- in fact, he predicted, we would run a small surplus. Twelve months later we were almost $56 billion in the hole.

The Conservatives fervently believe that, ultimately, Milton Friedman will be vindicated. And that is why Mr. Harper visited European leaders this past week, arguing against a bank tax -- which the U.S., Britain and France advocate. He argues that, because Canadian banks are in better shape than most, they need no such tax to curb their speculative urges.

What he neglects to mention, of course, is that it was a previous Liberal government which left him with a surplus and a sound banking system. He also neglects to mention that his government has injected $125 billion into The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation -- the equivalent of the FHA -- thus offering Canadian banks the assurance that they will not be stuck with toxic housing assets.

Professor Fry knows that the way out of this mess is to both raise taxes and to cut spending. Ironically, Canadians have been here before -- in the early nineties. But any talk of raising taxes -- in both the U.S. and Canada -- is, at present, considered heresy. The financial crisis and the environmental crisis remind us that our so called "best and brightest" have been neither. And Simpson reminds us that those who are both best and bright have a hard time finding an audience.


ChrisJ said...

I can't help but be reminded of Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Owen Gray said...

You quoted Yeats in one of your own posts a short time ago, Chris. We can only hope that the best ideas find an audience and keep that "rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem" from being born.