Monday, September 22, 2014

Anxiety Breeds Passivity

Over the weekend, Conservative senators announced that they will re-introduce a bill which previously sparked rebellion in the Red Chamber. The bill would force unions to publicly disclose their spending. It's all part of a movement which began forty years ago. Murray Dobbins writes:

In those pre-corporate globalization days, it was conventional political and social wisdom that the economy served the nation, and by inference, the community and families. The Bank of Canada's dual mandates -- unemployment and inflation -- were still competing but full employment was one of the few shared policy objectives of all three federal parties. It wasn't until the early '80s that inflation took a serious bite out of the accumulated wealth of the West's economic elite. That changed everything and "inflation fighting" became the obsession of the West's central banks.

But more than that it also became the weapon of choice of free-marketeers like former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin who with the co-operation of the Bank of Canada used extreme inflation targets (and subsequent high interest rates) to actually suppress economic growth and deliberately create high levels of unemployment. Few people recall that under Martin's ideological war on inflation throughout most of the 1990s, unemployment hovered around 9 per cent -- higher than it is now.
Martin's war on inflation was actually a war on labour, justified by the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and subsequently, North American Free Trade Agreement. It was all about global competitiveness and that meant driving down the cost and power of labour. Enforced high unemployment was perhaps the most powerful weapon, but dramatic cuts to Employment Insurance eligibility and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) were effective as well. The CAP transferred money to the provinces and was targeted specifically at establishing a minimum national standard for welfare. With its cancellation and replacement with a lump sum (for health, education and welfare), the provinces radically reduced social assistance rates and shifted money into the politically popular items like medicare.

And the War on Labour continues to this day. It has reached the point now where the Harper government puts an end to strikes before they begin, based on the bogus argument that the economy is too fragile to permit labour disruptions.

The strategy is to keep workers anxious and living pay cheque to pay cheque:

Over the past few years, a stream of reports have revealed just what that sacrifice has entailed. It has even fostered the use of a new term to describe modern working life: precarity. The numbers are scary. The Canadian Payroll Association's annual poll revealed recently that 51 per cent of Canadian employees would be in real financial trouble if their paycheque were delayed by a week. A week. A quarter of those surveyed said they couldn't pull together even $2,000 to deal with an emergency. Almost half said they were spending all their income -- or more -- on basic family needs. The savings rate is now below 4 per cent -- it was 15 per cent in the 1980s. Personal debt is at record levels, some 160 per cent of annual income and no wonder: the real income gain of the average employee between 1980 and 2005 was a measly $52 -- two dollars a year. The only thing keeping many families afloat is rising house prices. But 17 per cent of mortgage holders will be under water if rates rise just 1.5 per cent.

Keep workers anxious and you keep them passive. And, if the population is passive, you can get away with anything.


Anonymous said...

I think ordinary citizens have a lot of potential power. But we just don't recognize it. What will the rich do if we refuse to work in their factories making baubles and trinkets? What if we refuse to service their desires? I'd love to the Koch brothers, and other CEOs, wrestling fifty-five gallon fuel drums onto the wings of their corporate jets.

We have the anger, we just need the courage.

Owen Gray said...

Exactly, Anon. The anger is building. But it will take courage to change the trajectory of things.

Anonymous said...

"I'd love to the Koch brothers, and other CEOs, wrestling fifty-five gallon fuel drums onto the wings of their corporate jets."

It should have read like this:

"I'd love to *see* the Koch brothers, and other CEOs, wrestling fifty-five gallon fuel drums onto the wings of their corporate jets".

I had to fire my editor again, which is myself. I have to fire this incompetent idiot at least once or twice a week :)

Owen Gray said...

I filled in the missing word, Anon, and I suspect that readers did, too. It was -- as the clip suggests -- as easy as Da Da Da.

Anonymous said...

I would say, as an every day Canadian? Harper is the most evil entity we have had to cope with since, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. Harper is every bit as insane, as those other dictators were.

Many of us were brought up in the good, decent democratic Canada. We must learn to change our mind sets. How many times have I heard? But, this is Canada and Harper can't do that? Harper is very evil, we must not expect the best from Harper. We must expect the worst from Harper because, worst is all we have ever had from Harper.

This country won't be Canada for much longer. Canada will be Chinada, as of Oct 1st.

Owen Gray said...

And that, Anon, is why the next election is so important.

Askingtherightquestions said...

Great post Owen! I would agree that anxiety breeds distraction and potential for apathy but the problem for these great capitalist minds is that they ignore historical lessons and readily try to defend the indefensible (to look at the "guilded age" behaviour of American capitalists around 1900 is to see much of today's absurdities). Generate too much anxiety and it will explode in ways not always beneficial to society!
The shutting down of all meaningful questioning and dialogue and the use of the basest of politics leaves citizens feeling unheard and unrepresented. Harper (and his minions) has and continues to play with fire, Owen. He LOVES, for example, to talk about his principled decisions. My dictionary has two definitions of "principled". The most commonly used one is "of a person acting in accordance with morality and showing recognition of right or wrong" and the second is "of a system or method based on a given set of rules". Which one is Harper following??

Owen Gray said...

Modern conservatism knows only one "principle," Asking -- self interest. Its prime directive comes from the title of one of Ayn Rand's books, "Selfishness Is A Virtue."

After awhile, these folks look absolutely absurd when they try to live by that "principle."