All posts by meanderer007

The Madness of Subsidizing Oil and Gas

 

The Oil and Gas sector is heavily subsidized in both Canada and the United States. It has been for years. But many people don’t know how much. This is the case even though their profits are enormous.

I started paying attention to this issue during the Obama administration. At that time, Exxon was the world’s biggest oil company and perhaps the world’s biggest company, and also had the world’s largest profits ever in one year. President Obama, pointed out at the time that Exxon earned $4.7 million profit every hour! He said that the 3 largest oil companies made combined profits in 2011 of $80 billion or $200 million every day.

What was even more astounding was that such large companies, with such huge profits, were subsidized by taxpayers. They were on the public dole! That meant average taxpayers contributed extra subsidies to those  corporate giants. Many of those subsidies were paid through tax breaks. These were tax breaks that ordinary citizens and ordinary small businesses did  not enjoy. According to President Obama, those subsidies amounted to 4 billion annually in the United States. A staggering amount considering who the recipients were, namely huge and already profitable corporations.

In 2012 US President Obama tried to eliminate those subsidies. Shockingly, to me at least, the Senate Republicans blocked the measures to eliminate those tax breaks.  President Obama in arguing for the bill made a simple comment that is hard to deny. “With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies,” Obama said,  “… I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers, who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks.”  Yet such simple logic was beyond the ken and understanding of conservative politicians.

When oil companies argue against reducing the subsidies that they have come to cherish their “best” argument is that these subsidies are less than that enjoyed by other huge corporations.  Wow. Some get even more!  This is nuts!

What is really strange—hallucinogenically strange—is that those subsidies continued right through the recession when both the American and Canadian governments claimed to be so lacking in money, they had to make all kinds of cuts. Meanwhile these subsidies seriously exacerbated the most serious environmental problem of our time—climate change. Ordinary people were paying to make things worse!

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008 we have been in and out of recession. Some  think we never really got out of it. A lack of cash made it difficult to consider expensive projects.  Projects like doing something about climate change. Yet we can afford even less to do nothing. Inaction is much more expensive than action.

Carbon emissions have continued to rise during the recession,  though admittedly not as high as they would have risen had economic conditions been better. As Damian Carrington said on his environmental blog,

“The house is ablaze and we are throwing bucket after bucket at it—buckets of petrol. Worse if that is possible, the world’s politicians are not stepping in to stop us stoking the flames: instead they are helping us to pay for the petrol.”

In other words carbon emissions have risen during tough economic times because governments have dragged their feet on the necessary actions and then have made matters worse—much worse—by subsidizing fossil fuels the primary culprit behind climate change. These are truly weird times.

Despite clear warnings from the scientific community for a number of years, our political leaders have done nothing to halt the emission of greenhouse gases so those emissions have been rising by record amounts. This is beginning to look more and more like the people of Easter Island who kept cutting their trees down on their island until they were all gone. I always wondered who was the person on Easter Island who cut down the last tree and how did he think that made sense?  Sometimes we are just plain stupid. And as I have said often about myself, making it a fundamental principle of mine, ‘life is hard when you’re stupid.’

Scientists have for a long time pointed out that any average temperature rise beyond 2° C would not be safe.  “Safe” perhaps is not the best word.  Average temperature rises of 2° C would be serious.  Some say disastrous. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a temperature rise of 3.5 °C based on current policies. Some agencies have predicted even greater rises. That means we will soon enter a world of mass migrations and severe water shortages. In such a world, England would have the temperature of Morocco today. Manitoba would be about like Kansas.

Another possibility though is that average temperatures will rise even more to 6 °C.  According to Carrington, “That’s Armageddon: large parts of the planet uninhabitable and the risk of runaway warming threatening the rest.”

I am not minimizing what all of us individuals have to do. We too have to get serious about climate change. We have to change the way we live. But the role of governments is also of critical importance. The current inaction by our political leaders is a disgrace.

The IEA has said the role of government is “critical.”  Yet governments like our own stand still. During the Harper regime in Canada he said, he would not inflict the costs of action on our country.  Yet according to the IEA “delaying action is a false economy.” According to the IEA if we save $1 now by doing nothing we will pay $4.30 later to make up for it.”  That certainly would be a misleading “saving.”

Predatory Capitalism

 

Nowadays one hears much about limiting the power of the bureaucracy on the initiative and effort of the entrepreneurial class.  One should remember that not all bureaucracy is bad.   One should remember the predatory nature of capitalism unregulated or moderated by bureaucracy.  For example, in the early twentieth century novel The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair , he showed how the American meat-packing plants then operated, free from all government regulation.  “Rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together… there were things that went into sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit”. This was fiction, but it was fiction that contained a lot of truth.

These leaders of industry were no  more corrupt than our current business leaders, but they allowed things like this to happen because it was cheaper and no laws prevented them from doing so.  That novel was a strong impetus to the passage in America of the first consumer protection legislation, which required federal meat inspection.  Canada eventually followed suit. Such laws hardly seem radical today. A bureaucracy was created for the protection of the public. Who today really wants to get rid of that bureaucracy?  There was a movement afoot, in the nineties to eliminate all government red tape.  To get the bureaucracy off the back of business.  But is that really such a wise thing?  Sinclair referred to the forces urging a free reign for American business as “organized and predatory greed“.  Do we once again want to allow them free reign?

Modern conservatives of the right-wing variety (not the left-conservatives that I call the real conservatives) love to criticize government bureaucrats.  They are constantly harping about how government is “on their backs” and how they just cannot carry on business efficiently under these circumstances and how the poor workers suffer as a result.  Not just them but their workers. But look what happens when the bureaucrats are too weak.  A good example is the Westray mining disaster in Nova Scotia in which 26 miners lost their lives in the explosion in 1992. I knew the lawyer who was counsel for the inquiry that followed. A supervisor in the mine admitted that he did not consider it his job to report safety violations. He said his corporate bosses told him that he should not report the safety violations and if he did not do as he was told, they would hire someone else who would do as told.

Naturally, there were workers lining up for his job.  Even though the supervisor came from a mining family and knew the risks and dangers of mining, he covered up the safety violations rather than reporting them to the safety inspectors.  It was a clear case of the deterioration of the safety mentality that can and does occur in modern corporate enterprises.

Another example was the outbreak of “mad cow” disease in the beef herds of Britain in the 1990’s. There were warnings, but business such as agri-business cannot be trusted to police themselves.  They will too often be ready to risk health and safety for their profits.  Too often it is our risk for their gain.  Not really a good deal.

We need strong checks and balances to provide for our safety.  We need strong government.  We need strong bureaucrats who won’t just cow-tow to the business interests.  We need strong business, strong unions, and strong government.  When the power of any of these is unchecked problems occur.

Yet neo-liberals  by rote are opposed to government bureaucracies.  For example in the US in the 1980’s the Reagan administration “deregulated” the airline industry.  Canada followed suit of course. This was followed, of course, by a number of airlines going broke, or being swallowed up by other airlines.  Naturally the competition that followed was ferocious.  Many cut their prices greatly, while consumers cheered (for awhile).  What many consumers did not think about however, was that this meant those airlines would have to cut their costs.  So there were cheaper meals, that tasted that like cardboard, and fewer direct flights with cramped seats and less trained staff, but that was not enough.  More costs had to be cut in order to compete.  So airlines would fly the planes longer.  Stretch out their usefulness.  But this would also stretch out their safety.

Modern multi-national corporations have incredible abilities.  If they do not like the laws or submissiveness of workers in one country they can very quickly go to another.  Recently for example, the Disney Corporation went to Haiti to manufacture garments.  This is one of the poorest countries in the world, and all they had to pay their workers was 28 cents per hour and labour laws are weak. In Haiti  workers could be forced to accept very low wages.  A garment that cost 11 cents to make could be sold for  $28.  In other words, the labourer who created it got less than one-half of one per cent.

Sometimes capitalism can be pretty darn predatory. The public needs control to regulate it. The public interest demands it.

Remarkable Migrations of Homo sapiens

 

         We have to remember how remarkably successful Homo sapiens have been.  Homo sapiens are now on every continent and in the harshest environments.  They can live on land, on ice, and even, to some extent, in the sea.

IN a remarkable television series o n the migrations of early humans, Niobe Thompson said that he wanted to learn how the ancient world shaped humans and how humans managed to overcome the extreme obstacles in their path. From their original home in Africa humans migrated around the globe to settle in all of the earth’s diverse ecosystems. To do that, humans had to be extraordinarily flexible in order not just to survive, but also ultimately to thrive, in an unpredictable and hostile world.

As Niobe Thompson said,

“The more we learn about prehistoric migrations, the more impressive early humans become – they too were masters of exploration, they adapted as they went, and they were brave enough to look over the next hill, or beyond the ocean horizon.”

Our ancestors engaged in a series of remarkable migrations. One was a violent invasion of the Arctic about 1,000 years ago. This resulted in the creation of modern Inuit. Earlier than that, humans in the New World during the last Ice Age.  That was an unbelievable journey from Arctic Asia to North America when glaciers still covered half of North America.

Thompson’s conclusionabout these migrations was as follows:

“Each of these journeys into our past reinforced the same lesson: our ancestors were extraordinary people, capable of far more than we give them credit. They were curious and adventurous risk-takers, they were masters of technology, they thought like scientists, and they were fun loving, artistically sensitive, and emotionally complex.”

 

Because of this astonishing flexibility, intelligence, and ability to work in co-operative groups, Homo sapiens accomplished so much that they could learn to live, and live well, in every environment on earth. From Africa they explored Europe, Asia, Australia and North and South America. They even explored the most remote islands of the Pacific Ocean. Many think the great explorers were men like Magellan, Franklin, Columbus, and Heyerdahl. These were all amazing explorers. No doubt about that.

Yet as Niobe Thompson said, “the more we learn about prehistoric migrations, the more impressive early humans become – they too were masters of exploration, they adapted as they went, and they were brave enough to look over the next hill, or beyond the ocean horizon.”

Thompson wanted to learn how this was possible. He claimed  “the reason humans were so resourceful was that humans evolved during the most volatile era the planet has experienced since the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.”  It was a classic case of ‘what did not kill us made us stronger.”  Not only that, but we were able to pass on that new strength to our offspring in a classic case of Darwinian evolution.

New climate research has showed that our amazing ancestors emerged in Africa just as global conditions went completely weird. Thompson claims that these extraordinary challenges were in fact what made Homo sapiens so special that they could survive what destroyed their cousins, other hominins. Thompson put it this way:

“Humans were forged by calamity. We became tenacious, virtually impossible to wipe out, incredibly good at dealing with change. We became fast-breeding settlers, a relentless colonizer. As soon as the modern brain evolved, our species became unstoppable. The very mind that today believes it needs a new smart phone every 12 months is the same one that invented and adapted its way from the parched Kalahari Desert to the shores of the Arctic Ocean within 1,500 generations. To put that into perspective, before that point in time – over the previous 100,000 generations (2 million years) – earlier humans invented only a single primitive tool, the stone hand-axe.”

Early humans were truly astonishing.

Selling what No One wants

 

Modern manufacturers learned that it was not enough to sell what people wanted to buy.  They had to go further than that.  They wanted to sell what no one wanted to buy.  At least not yet!  Part of their job was to make people want to buy what they wanted to sell. They transformed the principle of supply and demand.  They did that by manufacturing demand.

Many products were at first strange to the American public.  For example, Gillette razors, Kodak cameras, Waterman fountain pens, Kellogg cereals, to name but a few.  So it became necessary to create a market for their products and this is what the manufacturers and their marketing and advertising experts learned to do, and to do well.  They not only created new products, they created new living habits.  They changed the country.  The result of all of this of course, as we now know very well, is extravagant packaging, disposable products and containers, planned obsolescence and cosmetic changes that quickly created markets for replacement products.  The consumer society was created.  Now we have come to realize, with some pain, that the effects of all of this are not private and not benign.  Far from that.  The ecological effects alone are monstrous, to say nothing about the effects on the minds and morals of people.

We have to learn to control that. To do that, to some extent at least, we must control markets. That is not always easy, but it is frequently important.

Selling what no one wants takes some creative genius, but it is a genius that must be curtailed.

The Monarchy of Fear

 

When I saw the title of a book, The Monarchy of Fear, I was immediately attracted to it. Then when I saw who wrote it, I had no choice; I had to buy it. The author is Martha Nussbaum, considered by some, to be the finest philosopher in the United States. I had read an article about her in the New Yorker, but had not read any of her books. In that article I learned that she liked to write about emotions. To me, a graduate in Philosophy some 5 decades ago, this seemed unlikely. I was wrong. Emotions are important in so many ways and it is good that philosophers opine on them.

For quite some time I have thought fear is an emotion that can have extraordinary consequences, particularly in the modern political context. Fear is a natural product of the age of anxiety or the age of anger. What could be more important than that?

Nussbaum had important things to say in the very first paragraph of the book. Here is what she said,

 

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

This struck exactly the right note from my perspective. The real problem with fear is that it interferes with rational decision-making. And we see it everywhere. In Canada just like the United States, but I think it is particularly prevalent in the United States. That country is the richest in the world, has the best armed forces that money can buy, spends more on prisons and police than any other nation by a long-shot.  Yet it seems to me to be a country infused, no saturated, with fear. Americans like to call themselves the ‘land of the brave,’ but over and over again, from gated communities, to elaborate armies, the country is hobbled by fear to such an extent and with such intensity that it constantly surprises. And as Nussbaum suggests, such fear often “blocks rational deliberation.” Nowhere is the effect of this powerful more evident than in the election of Donald Trump. What rational deliberation could have ushered in his presidency?

Nussbaum boldly asserted the following:

“What is today’s fear about?  Many Americans, themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all to attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women.  “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

How many of the important social problems of the day are encapsulated in that paragraph? There is a lot to chew over in that paragraph.

And of course with such fears rational deliberation is unlikely! It is hardly surprising as a result that the United States, in its moment of fear, has turned to a man who is probably more unlikely to solve its problems than anyone else we could consider. As a result of fear they made the worst possible decision imaginable. That is the monarchy of fear!

Moral Control of Corporations

 

Multinational corporations are becoming more, not less, influential. This is why it so unfortunate that their behaviour is often completely immoral.

A case in point is Nigeria.  Soon after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and 9 other opponents of the Nigerian  regime, Shell continued on in its business relations with the government of Nigeria as if nothing had happened. Multinational corporations assert no responsibility for its business partners.  Who could expect more given their tolerance of their own moral shortcomings?

It is however becoming increasingly apparent that some  corporations like bad governments.  They serve a very useful purpose provided that they don’t become too bad.  In other words as long as they allow business to carry on business with at least some degree of order, that is good enough with the multinationals.  As long as governments permit business to operate with some assurances that they can keep their profits, they like it if such governments are oppressive of their citizens. Even if political corruption is rampant and bribes are a cost of business.  They like it if labour costs are kept low, and environmental safeguards are ignored and safe working conditions not required.  This allows for ever greater profit. It would have been nice if Shell had voiced its opposition to the approach of the Nigerian government  They might have had a small effect. Unfortunately, the world over, business people  resist the notion that morality should ever play a role in business.

Canadians of course have learned this affects them too as the case of SNC Lavalin showed. We have to vigilant against corporate corruption, even when, as they always claim, it will cost jobs. We don’t need to support corruption to maintain jobs. We need clean jobs. Only clean jobs. And we need to control corporations, whether they like it or not.

Are contractual rights sacred?

I believe in the freedom to contract. But, as with all freedoms, this freedom is not absolute. There must be limits—reasonable limits.

Normally it is of course the right that preaches the sanctity of contract.  Contractual rights are of course a form of property right.  Many property rights are in fact no more than contractual rights these days.  For example what is a guaranteed investment certificate, but a contractual right to have the bank pay the holder a certain amount of money on a certain date. Any expropriation of contractual rights should therefore naturally meet with the loud opposition of our right-wingers.  Ordinarily, they are certainly vocal in opposition to any encroachments onto contractual rights without compensation, at least when the expropriated parties are people of wealth.

It was therefore interesting to see the reaction of the political right to proposals by the City of Winnipeg council a few years ago that the council obtain a tax freeze by tearing up its collective bargaining agreement negotiated freely with one of its main unions the year before. Interestingly there was little or no opposition heard from the right of the political spectrum. The conservative government under Premier Pallister did the same with its government employees during its first term in office.   I guess contractual rights are not important when they belong to the workers, rather than the investors.  There was absolutely no talk at all of the sanctity of contractual rights.  When it comes down to the poor and vulnerable labourers they are fair game.  In this neo-conservative age the rights of the poor, the vulnerable, and the mere workers are under siege.

Are contractual rights sacred? That depends on who is asking.

 

Other Hominins

The other Hominid species were not as lucky as Homo sapiens.  About 200,000 years ago, at the time of the evolution of hominids, Africa was chock full with many different kinds of walking apes/primates. They were all much like us. We were kin—close kin. There were, for example, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo erectus of whom we know very little.

There is some confusion about terminology here that I would like to dispel, but I am not sure I can. The two words “hominid” and “hominin” are similar and definitions have varied over time. Hominids were originally only humans (homo) and their closest extinct relatives. Those are now usually called hominins. Other than humans, all hominins are extinct.          The 21st century meaning of the word “hominid” includes all the great apes (including those that are still around) and humans.

Denisovans or Denisova hominins are a recently discovered species of human in the genusHomo. In March 2010 scientists announced that they had discovered a finger bone fragment of a juvenile female who lived 41,000 years ago in a remote Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. She has been called “X woman.”  I wish they had given her a better name. That was a cave that had been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans. Since then 2 teeth from different members of the same population have been found.

Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the finger showed to the scientists that it was genetically distinct from the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans. Subsequent evidence has showed that the genome from this specimen suggests that this group shares a common origin with Neanderthals and modern humans. Apparently they ranged from Siberia to South East Asia. They lived with and even interbred with some ancestors of modern humans. DNA evidence discovered in Spain suggests that Denisovans at one time resided in Western Europe. Previously it was believed that only Neanderthals lived there. A comparison with the genome of Neanderthals from the same cave in Spain revealed significant interbreeding. The evidence also strongly suggests that the Denisovans also interbred with an as yet unidentified ancient human lineage. Other pieces of bones are now being analyzed.

Later mtDNA analysis revealed that this new hominin species was a product of an earlier migration out of Africa and was distinct from later out-of-Africa migrations associated with modern humans. It was also distinct from Homo erectus. The addition of this new hominin species makes the history of humans much more complex than it was earlier. It also creates a more complex picture of the Late Pleistocene. This research suggests that the Denisovans were a sister group to the Neanderthals, branching off from the human lineage about 600,000 years ago and diverging from Neanderthals, probably in the Middle East about 400,000 years ago.

Anthropologist Niobe Thompson visited a number of recognized experts on human origins and the African world of our ancestors. These experts, shown on the television show I watched, included Rick Potts the Director of the Smithsonian’s human origins program. As well he visited archeologist Curtis Marean, whose South African excavations are telling us how humans escaped the threat of extinction, and Chris Henshilwood, whose discovery of the earliest symbolic thought and art-making is revolutionizing our understanding of the beginnings of the “modern human.”  Along with other scientists they are changing how we think about our origins. These new views are fascinating.

A lot of recent archaeological evidence has been gathered in southern Africa in recent years. I saw some of those sites in 2013 during my visit to Africa with Christiane. Now scientists say that they have found evidence that southern Africa was “the cradle of the human mind.” This is where there is evidence that the Homo sapiens were reduced to pitifully small numbers. Yet miraculous they survived while the other hominins perished.

According to Thompson “some of our cousins were so like us that we ‘married’ into their lines, or they ‘married’ into ours. Our DNA carries the signals of those meetings”

All other species of hominins disappeared. That was because life during and after the last Ice Age was tough—very tough.  All died out, except Homo sapiens. Some of these species were bigger than us. Some had larger brains! Yet Homo sapiens survived. Their story is remarkable. It is worth thinking about that story. Our ancestors, like all indigenous people, were remarkable.

It does seem strange that Homo sapiens now occupy a “lonely branch of the evolutionary tree.” Why did Homo sapiens manage to do what all other species of hominins were unable to do?  That is a very important question well worth contemplating.  If the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates said, and as I believe, this is a question worth pursuing. Why were Homo sapiens special enough to survive while all of their cousins went extinct?

         I like to think that Homo sapiens survived because they learned to cooperate with each other, better than other species. Of course, liking to believe something does not necessarily make it so.

 

Children of Extremes

 

I watched a fascinating show on CBC television The Nature of Things. It was called The Great Human Odyssey: A World of Extremes.  This was the first of a series of 3 shows. The first show was the story of the evolution—the deeply interesting story—of human evolution.

The story was written, produced, narrated and directed by Niobe Thompson, anthropologist. He asked many important questions: Where did we come from? How did we survive near extinction? And why did we become one of the world’s very few global species? This is the human story. It is an indigenous story.

The makers of the series benefited from recent scientific research that has led scientists to revise nearly every chapter of human story. On the show, Thompson talked to some of the worlds’ leading researchers into the origins of humans. Thompson actually participated in the lives of some the world’s few remaining nomads and hunter/gatherers in Africa.

One of the interesting things about the evolution of humans is that humans are the only form of life, according to Thompson “unhitched from the natural limits of an ecological niche.” I am not sure I agree with that statement. Is anyone or any creature actually delinked from its ecological niche? I don’t really believe that.  Yet it is clear that humans have been able to adapt to new environments and even change those environments when it suited their needs. To that extent they were unhitched from that niche. Yet every one and every creature is intimately tied to our environment. We are a part—a vital part—of that environment.

Humans as a species evolved in  very harsh environments. That is why it was necessary for our species to adapt. If humans could not have adapted they would have failed like all the other species of hominids disappeared. As Thompson said, “ ‘evolution of adaptability’ is our inheritance from our difficult past.” It may be our most important trait.

In fact recent scientific research has confirmed that at one time Homo sapiens literally stood on the brink of extinction numbering only a few thousand individuals somewhere in Africa.  According to Thompson, there was such a population bottleneck that there might have been only 600 breeding pairs of Homo sapiens left on the planet. All of them were in Africa at that time. We are all descendants of that small group of humans.  We are all Africans. Imagine that: Homo sapiens were an endangered species.

Yet somehow the early humans managed to survive. They found a way to regroup and rebuild. From that small group Homo sapiens colonized the entire world, becoming the most dominant species on the planet in a virtual geological blink of an eye. How did they do it?

Climate change had created very difficult conditions in much of Africa where Homo sapiens could be found. Africa, in some places, experienced a serious drought for 40,000 years. That was the mother of all droughts.

There was only one way Homo sapiens could have survived such severe conditions with such small numbers.  Homo sapiens had to learn to work together.  They could have some rugged individuals. Some bright geniuses. They were important. But even more important, were the people who worked together to solve problems and then to pass on what they learned to the next generation of Homo sapiens. Both individuals and co-operators are crucially important to our success. This was a vital insight I gained from watching this television show.

Homo sapiens were at the time hunter/gatherers who needed to work together, co-operatively—to hunt their prey and gather food such as nuts, berries and other edible products. Without co-operation, I unreservedly believe, our species would have run out of gas and gone extinct like all the other hominids.

Because we could adapt we could survive. It is important to think about this now that we face an existential crisis. We can change, adapt and survive. But continuing on as we have done is not the right approach.

The welfare State

 

The welfare state is not a bogeyman. I am not a socialist though I have a lot of sympathy and lot in common with them. I consider myself a social democrat instead. I remember Premier Ed Schreyer in 1969, who made the same distinction after he led his party of New Democrats to power in the Manitoba provincial election.   A social democrat is a person who understands that the welfare state is essential to democracy, and at least enlightened business leaders have come to realize that.

Frankly I believe that socialism is as outdated as capitalism.  They were old foes that were both wrong. A Social Democrat realizes that government is a useful tool to bring about economic well-being and justice. It is not the enemy of the people. It is not the goal of the social democrat to have government own all businesses or to control, or as Marx said, “the means of production.”  The social democrat is content to have those owned privately. However the social democrat realizes that the owners of businesses and properties should not be allowed to have unfettered power because if they do they will use that power to exploit the less powerful in what they perceive, often mistakenly, as their own interest. That is not in the public interest. The Social Democrat speaks for the public interest–i.e. the common good.

Many Capitalists and most neo-conservatives want to see government shrunk. They are constantly on the warpath against ‘Big government.” They believe that almost everything of value comes from private enterprise and that government is only a chain around it. Government is seen as a hindrance, as a purveyor of red tape that strangles private enterprise. Famously, an American neo-conservative once said he wanted to shrink government until it was so small it could drown in a bathtub!

The Social Democrat also realizes that often public goods are just as important, if not more so, than private goods. Both are goods!  For example, the Social Democrat appreciates schools, hospitals, fire departments, highways, sidewalks, parks, ecological reserves, national and provincial/state parks, recreational facilities and much more, as great goods every bit as important as private goods.

Well-known Social Democrats were Tony Judt and Eric Hobsbawm.  They appreciated all the goods that governments had brought about in the 20th century and that it was crazy to suggest that all these goods had been brought about by private enterprise.

As Ed Broadbent stated in a speech in 1997, the welfare state is not a matter of altruism or charity.  Rather, it is a grand bargain that reconciles citizens to the inequalities that arise in the capitalist system by offering them equitable treatment in at least some fundamental areas of life.  As he said, “the marriage of the welfare state brings together the two dispositions of fairness and self-interest.  Like all marriages, it is precarious– and the balance between the impulse to solidarity and to self must be constantly monitored.”  In the years of the neo-conservative retreat this delicate balance was disturbed and often forgotten.

One of the interesting by-products of the success of the welfare state was to increase the number of working class families open to neo-conservative arguments.  It is easy for people to forget the help that they have received and give themselves sole credit for their own achievements. For example, many people, including successful entrepreneurs, came to believe that their success was the result of their own efforts alone, ignoring the benefits, direct and indirect from the complex networks of the welfare state.  Many successful people forget about the subsidies that they have received from the welfare state, such as state subsidized education, housing, transportation, entertainment, health care, care for their elders, assistance to their business or profession.  They think that just because they did not receive direct social assistance that they have received no help.  Then by hypocrisy that even politicians would find impressive they declare themselves “self-made men!”