Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Sense of Balance

In his recent book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, John Ralston Saul writes of this country's deep aboriginal roots, which have profoundly influenced how Canadians view the world and themselves. One of the values Canadians cherish, Saul writes, is a sense of balance -- balance between man and nature, balance between us and others, balance between rich and poor.

It is precisely the balance between rich and poor which neo-liberalism -- and the Harper government -- threatens. Everywhere the economic policies of the Chicago School have been applied, there has been stark -- and rising -- inequality.

In a recent blog post, Alex Himelfarb reminds his readers of the work of Karl Polyani. Polyani understood the power of the word freedom. But freedom means many things -- and the problem with neo-liberalism is that it defines freedom as "economic freedom."

Polanyi warned some sixty years ago against a narrow economic definition of freedom that could too easily mean freedom from our obligations to others and, at worst, the freedom to abuse and exploit. For Polanyi, such an approach meant real freedom for the few, not the many, and was built on delusion, the pretense that earnings reflect only individual effort and merit, rather than the contributions of many and the investments of previous generations more willing than we to pay their taxes – not to mention the role of luck and inheritance. Polanyi rejected the notion that the economy, the market, was the basis for all human organization and freedom. Instead, he viewed the economy – and freedom as well – as embedded in society.

Polyani feared that such a narrow emphasis on economic freedom would lead to a deep social schism between those who were devoted to protecting their privilege and those who were protecting themselves from the privileged.

It's clear that Stephen Harper is profoundly ignorant of Canada's Aboriginal roots. His long term goal is to bury those influences and replace them with a more European -- and, frankly, a more American -- philosophy of government. Whoever wins the battle for balance will affect the long term future of this country.

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