Category Archives: Capitalism

The Rich need money; the Poor need Poverty

 

Although John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out how  the socialist and capitalist countries are similar, but in the west the

“controlling contentment and resulting belief is now that of the many, not just of the few.  It operates under the compelling cover of democracy, albeit a democracy not of all citizens but of those who, in defense of their social and economic  advantage, actually go to the polls.  The result is government that is accommodated not to reality or common need but to the beliefs of the contented, who are now the majority of those who vote.”

 

Galbraith points out this discrepancy of governmental treatment of the poor compared to the wealthy in amusing terms, though the consequences are far from amusing:

“The substantial role of the government in subsidizing this well-being deserves more than passing notice.  Where the impoverished are concerned — a point to which I return — government support and subsidy are seriously suspect as to need and effectiveness of administration and because of their adverse effect on morals and working morale.  This, however, is not true of government support to comparative well-being.  By Social Security pensions or their prospect no one is thought damaged, nor, as a depositor, by being rescued from a failed bank.  The comparatively affluent can withstand the adverse moral effect of being subsidized and supported by the government, not so the poor.”

 

 

Subsidies to the poor are always on a very different level than subsidies for the wealthy. The poor are always underserving, the rich always in need. Not only that but subsidies to the rich or well-off are always for the benefit of society as a whole. Subsidies to the poor are given out of the largesse of the well-off. The rich are to be complemented for permitting their money to be used on the poor. As well, the rich are to be complemented for accepting subsidies not really for themselves but in order to benefit society as a whole. The poor should be looked down on for accepting charity. It shows they are not of strong character. That is just how it works when you control the political process. As a result of such attitudes, when the Green New Deal proposes to spend money to ease inequality of incomes, we must treat the howls of protest from the affluent with careful skepticism. They might have a point, but we should not assume they have a point.

Although Galbraith was describing the United States the same things happen in Canada too.  In Canada the contented accept government subsidies through CMHC, CDIC, RRSP’s, farm supports, DREE, and numerous grants to businesses.  Particularly the oil and gas sector which has done so much to create the problem of climate change enjoys subsidies in the billions. Subsidizing clean energy or green projects is seen instead with alarm by the contented.

 

Business sees no problem in going to the public trough for itself, but not so for the poor. They are also extreme in their defence of their own privilege. Witness the recent puny attempt by the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau in making fairly modest tax reform proposals in Canada principally around reducing the benefits of well-off Canadians in earning money through a corporation rather than personally. Those benefits of course go largely to the rich. In my practice of law it was not common to see homeless people come in to incorporate their scrounging ‘businesses.’

Even though he was a privileged Harvard economist, former Ambassador, and confidant of the rich and famous, Galbraith had similar scepticism:

 “While self-interest, as we shall see, does frequently operate under a formal cover of social concern, much social concern is genuinely and generously motivated.

Nonetheless, self-regard is, and predictably, the dominant, indeed the controlling, mood of the contented majority.  This becomes wholly evident when public action on behalf of those outside this electoral majority is the issue.  If it is to be effective, such action is invariably at public cost.  Accordingly, it is regularly resisted as a matter of high, if sometimes rather visibly contrived, principle…”

Given the power of the affluent to influence public opinion, it would be surprising if the Green New Deal were easily proven to be a rational plan to reduce climate change.

A Conservative  Wet Nightmare

 

I was hearing a lot about the New Green Deal.  Until I wasn’t hearing anything anymore. The Green New Deal drives Republicans in the US and Conservatives in Canada, apoplectic. That is why Samantha Bee has called the Green New Deal the “Republicans wet nightmare.

 

Why  don’t we hear about it anymore. Were the criticisms of it from conservatives so radically convincing? Or did interest groups get their away (again)?

Dominant groups invariably react to anything that undermines their dominance with scorn, mockery, and howls of opposition. They think the upstart must be irrational, if not absolutely insane. Listen to their howls. They scream it; they mean it. It makes no sense. None.

This is what the dominant groups in the US did when Roosevelt introduced the original New Deal. It was completely absurd they claimed. We can’t afford it. It will bankrupt the nation. How could anyone say in a time of 25% unemployment that the country must put those people to work? It made absolutely no sense they assured us. Well–they were wrong. Entirely absolutely wrong. Roosevelt has been credited with saving capitalism from its greatest foes–the capitalists! Now they complain similarly about the Green New Deal.

Is that how it will be with the Green New Deal? We have already heard the screams and howls of laughter, mockery and pain.

Karl Mannheim, in his landmark book, Ideology and Utopia, building on an insight of Marx, first pointed out that ruling groups can in their thinking become so intensively interest-bound to a situation that they are no longer able to see certain facts which might tend to undermine their sense of domination.  The ideology of ruling groups often obscures the real condition of society from itself, and often even to those groups that dominate.  The ideology of ruling groups is self-serving.  As a consequence, such groups often do not recognize the unpleasant facts which might detract from their domination.  This is usually accomplished naturally, without conspiracy.  To them, all dissent, as Herbert Marcuse noticed, is irrational, if not insane.

No one likes to lose privileges. That is the long and short of it. In fact, groups with resources, will use those resources to protect their privileges. That does not mean that all their arguments are bogus. It just means we ought to be wary of them. We should, as John Stuart Mill made clear, always look at the other side. Are we getting the whole truth from the privileged groups or are they using their influence to influence those in power to do their bidding?

Over that past 3 decades industries in the oil and gas sector, including some of the richest corporations in the world have spent enormous sums of money to convince political leaders, and even us the mere peons, that what is good for ExxonMobil is good for us too.  Is it?  Is the Green New Deal really that radically subversive? Or are we being sold another bill of goods? As the Sergeant on the television series, Hill Street Blues used to warn the police before they went out on their beat each morning: ‘Be careful out there.”

That was wise advice to the beat cops. That would be wise advice to us peons.

Putin: Ivan Ilyin’s Disciple

 

After he died Ivan Ilyin’s ideas were largely ignored for about 50 years. Then they were revived with vigour, by “post-Soviet billionaires.” The oligarchs in other words, found his ideas congenial. They found these ideas enormously convenient to justify the incredible inequality in Russia. As Timothy Snyder said,

“Putin and his friends and allies accumulated vast wealth beyond the law, and then remade the state to preserve their own gains. Having achieved this, Russian leaders had to define politics as being rather than doing. An ideology such as Ilyin’s purports to explain why certain men have wealth and power in terms other than greed and ambition. What robber would not prefer to be called a redeemer?”

Thus, the ideas of Ilyin became the ideology of Putin and his cronies. The ideology of Christian fascism replaced Marxist ideology. They are no more communist than the Chinese leaders. Of course, all of this was amazingly similar to the practice of Soviet power before the collapse of communism. All Soviet citizens had been educated in that system so this felt familiar and comfortable to them compared to the anarchic kleptocracy that followed a brief near neo-liberalism after the fall of communism. It came as a relief to Russians, as fascism came as a relief to Germans and Italians in the 1930s.

This brings me back to the politics of eternity.  As Snyder said,

“The politics of eternity cannot make Putin or any other man immortal. But it can make other ideas unthinkable.  And that is what eternity means: the same thing over and over again, a tedium exciting to believers because of the illusion that it is particularly theirs. Of course, this sense of “us and them,” or as fascists prefer, “friends and enemies,” is the least specific human experience of them all; to live within it is to sacrifice individuality.”

 

Once again, it is amazing how Trump fits in once more. He hinted he wanted to be president for life, like some of his dictator pals. He wanted to be added to Mount Rushmore. And he was serious. And of course, Trump saw the world as one of friends and enemies. Everyone who did not do and think like him was an enemy. Those who paid obeisance were friends, so long as they did not stop. Of course, the incredible inequality in Russia is mirrored in the United States.

 

Christian Fascism

 

I had never heard of the idea of Christian fascism before I read Timothy Snyder’s book The Road to Unfreedom.

 

According to  the historian Timothy Snyder, Ivan Ilyin was a philosopher from a noble family in Russia who found in the disastrous situation that Russia found itself in after World War I that he wanted to oppose Bolshevism and the instrument he chose for that purpose was Christian fascism.  Interestingly, this was the same instrument chosen by Putin and Trump. There are deep historical roots to that process. Ilyin’s ideas though became popular much later, after the fall of Communism even though Ilyin had died 30 years earlier in 1954.

 

Vladimir Putin adopted Ilyin’s views as the intellectual foundation for his oligarchy. According to Snyder, “Ilyin was a politician of eternity. His thought held sway as the capitalist version of the politics of inevitability collapsed in the Russia of the 1990s and 2000s. As Russia became an organized kleptocracy in the 2010s, as domestic inequality reached stupefying proportions, Ilyin’s influence peaked.”

 

Very few people in the west have been aware of the influence of Ilyin. I know I never heard of him before I read Snyder’s The road to Unfreedom. His name has come up much more often after the second war in Ukraine. Snyder says Ilyin reached magnificent heights in Russia after the fall of communism and the brief interlude that followed. Snyder said, “he has become the philosopher for our time. No thinker of the twentieth century has been rehabilitated in such grand style in the twenty-first, nor enjoyed such influence on world politics. If this went unnoticed it was because we are in the thrall of inevitability: we believe that ideas do not matter.”

 

According to the Romanian thinker E. M. Cioran, Christian fascism embraced the ideas that before history God is perfect and eternal. But once he begins history, God seems “frenetic, committing error upon error.” Ivan Ilyin, Putin’s inspiration, took up this idea. He thought it would take a philosopher like himself to regain the solid ground of reality—i.e. the divine totality that would avoid the spiritual and moral relativism” that God’s “mistake” led us into.

 

Ilyin realized that the politics of from the 1880s to the early 1910s were the politics of globalization, just as they were again later from the 1980s to 2010s. In both eras the conventional wisdom was that export led growth would bring enlightened politics and end fanaticism. During the First World that optimism broke down. In the 2010s Trump and the resentful class to whom he appealed, showed that this optimism had also broken down in America. As Snyder says, “Ilyin regarded fascism as the politics of the world to come.”  And of course so did Trump and his 73 million voters. The phrase politics of the world to come, reminds me of what George Orwell said, “If you want an image of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.”

 

Ilyin in the 1920s was in exile in Italy and he was disappointed that the Italians arrived at fascism before the Russians. Just as Trump later yearned for fascism when he looked at Putin and a host of other tyrants around the world and wished he could be like them. Trump always found dictators and tyrants more congenial than the leaders of the world’s democracies. That is not as surprising as it might sound. Trump naturally swam in the waters of tyranny. That was where he felt most at home. Ilyin was also impressed with Hitler. Just as Trump was impressed with Putin. Like liked like.  Ilyin actually spent most of his time from 1922 to 1938 in Germany.

 

The attraction of Hitler for Ilyin was the same as for so many fascists: “Ilyin saw Hitler as a defender of civilization from Bolshevism. The Führer, he wrote had “performed an enormous service for all of Europe” by preventing further revolutions on the Russian model.”

 

This is an important thought to remember. Capitalists are quite comfortable with fascists, because the real enemy is communism, or even socialism. In fact historically, capitalists are more friendly with fascism than democracy.

 

At this same time in Europe ,American capitalists were swarming to adopt Hitler as a congenial ally. Communists those were the real enemies of American capitalists. The connection between capitalism and fascism is deep. The connection to democracy is much more tenuous. It was therefore no surprise to see American capitalists enthralled by Trump, notwithstanding his obvious authoritarian tendencies. Later many were enthralled by Putin.

 

As Snyder pointed out, “Closely related to the fantasy of an eternally innocent Russia includes the fantasy of an eternally innocent redeemer, who does no wrong and therefore will not die.”

 

Fantasy: The Intellectual roots of Fascism

 

Timothy Snyder found the intellectual roots of fascism, at least Russian fascism, or Putin’s fascism,  in a little-known philosopher Ivan Ilyin who lived  in the first half of the 20th century.  Putin and his cronies revived him in the 1990s and 2000s.

According to Timothy Snyder who has spent his academic life studying fascism, the fascism of the 1920s and 1930s to which Ilyin was attracted,  had three core features:

 

  1. It celebrated will and violence over reason and law;
  2. It proposed a leader with a mystical connection to his people;
  3. It characterized globalization as a conspiracy rather than a set of problems to be solved

 

In the 21st century fascism has been revived by populist leaders around the world. According to Snyder the driving force of that process is inequality. I agree. I said earlier inequality promotes resentment and contempt, particularly self-contempt. And that leads directly to fascism.   According to Snyder,

“Fascism serves oligarchs as a catalyst for transitions away from public discussion and towards political fiction; away from meaningful voting and towards fake democracy; away from the rule of law and toward personalist regimes.”

 

In other words, the politics of eternity are what Putin has achieved and Trump did his best to achieve. I call that fascism. Trump was just a wanna be fascist. Of course in the last election in the US he had more than 73 million supporters many of whom now believe he was cheated out of his rightful second term as president of the United States. That is his fantasy and it has been taken up by his supporters. That makes Trump a force to be reckoned with. He could return in 2024 or earlier if there is successful insurrection, which cannot be ruled out. Even if Trump does not return, Trumpism is alive and well in the United States with millions supporters. In only 1 America election were more than 73 million votes needed to be elected President , and that was of course in 2020. The yearning for the politics of eternity, as Snyder calls it, is far from dead. It could come back to haunt the country and in fact the world at any time.

 

According to Snyder, Ilyin is “a guide on the darkening road to unfreedom, which leads from inevitability to eternity.”

 

Snyder also makes clear that eternity, like inevitability, as he calls it, “is another idea that says there are no ideas.”

Snyder explained this idea this way:

“The politics of inevitability is the idea that there are no ideas. Those in its thrall deny that ideas matter, proving only that they are in the grip of a powerful one.  The cliché of the politics of inevitability is that “there are no alternatives.” To accept this is to deny individual responsibility for seeing history and making change. Life becomes a sleepwalk to  premarked grave in a prepurchased plot.

Eternity arises from inevitability like a ghost from a corpse. The capitalist version of the politics of inevitability, the market as a substitute for policy, generates economic inequality, that undermines belief in progress. As social mobility halts, inevitability gives way to eternity and democracy gives way to oligarchy. An oligarch spinning a tale of an innocent past, perhaps with the help of fascist ideas, offers fake protection to people with real pain. Faith in technology serves freedom opens the way to his spectacle. As distraction replaces concentration, the future dissolves in the frustration of the present, and eternity becomes daily life. The oligarch crosses into real politics from a world of fiction, and governs by invoking myth and manufacturing crisis. In the 2010s, one such person, Vladimir Putin, escorted another, Donald Trump, from fiction to power. ”

 

Those are the ideas that Snyder uses to describe fascists from Hitler to Stalin, to Putin to Trump. And their essence is fantasies.

Inequality Breeds Contempt

 

I want to continue talking about Snyder’s idea of “the politics of inevitability” just a little bit more.

One of my readers pointed out that this theory that was employed by people in the west as well as the east is really a version of determinism.  And the problem with determinism is that even if  events are determined it is extremely difficult to predict the future.

 

What the Americans thought was their own inevitable dominance after that collapse of the Soviet Empire turned out to be one more dangerous illusion. The road to heaven turned out to be more complicated than that. In fact, the road to heaven turned out to be a road to unfreedom. Inevitability turned out to be a churlish illusion. As Timothy Snyder said,

 

“The American politics of inevitability, like all such stories, resisted facts. The fates of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus after 1991 showed well enough that the fall of one system did not create a blank slate on which nature generated markets and markets generated rights. Iraq in 2003 might have confirmed this lesson, had the initiators of America’s illegal war reflected upon its disastrous consequences. The financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation of campaign contributions in the United States magnified the influence of the wealthy and reduced that of voters. As economic inequality grew, time horizons shrank, and fewer Americans believed that the future held a better version of the present. Lacking a functional state that assured basic social goods taken for granted elsewhere—education, pensions, health care, transport, parental leave, vacations—Americans could be overwhelmed by each day, and lose a sense of the future.”

 

The decline of America was set in motion. Nothing was inevitable except the crushing power of wealth.

Americans don’t believe this even though they so powerfully demonstrate it. Inequality breeds contempt. First inequality ushers in resentment, then contempt. First, the lowly feel resentment about their “betters” and then they feel contempt for themselves for failing to live up to their own ideals. They see themselves as losers. Their self-respect is curdled by envy.  It had happened earlier to African Americans enslaved for centuries until many of them lost their ability to love even themselves as shown in the novels of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. We need a writer of equal power to tell us the truth of what happened after 2008. Instead, we have too many people who don’t want to look at the truth of modern North American society and prefer the contentment of looking at comfortable myths.

Such a situation is ripe for the demagogue.  America got exactly that. It got Donald Trump to make America (and of course Americans) great again. What a wonderful illusion. All they had to do was keep out the undesirables and have faith in their new leader. He could do it. And astonishingly, millions of Americans believed him, without any evidence that he could do it. They believed it because they wanted it so much to be true.

The same thing happened in Russia. They got Putin. He promised Russians that the Soviet Empire could be revived.  He would do that in Ukraine. So far he has just brought ruin without empire.  In Russia, as in the United States, some people achieved enormous wealth while ordinary people were left to suck socks. And that created huge problems in both countries.

The Politics of Inevitability

 

I thought I would skirt around 2 concepts that are actually very important to Timothy Snyder’s thesis in the book The Road to Unfreedom. These are the closely related concepts of “the politics of inevitability” and “the politics of eternity” as he called.  I thought I would leave both of these concepts  out of my posts, but have realized I already  included a reference to these ideas without explanation.   I also decided that just because I had difficulty understanding them, did not mean my faithful readers would find them difficult. After all most of them are much smarter than me. So I am backing up here to explain them now.

I will first try to explain the politics of inevitability. As I understand it, Snyder describes the politics of inevitability and the politics of eternity as 2 steps on the road to unfreedom.

According to Snyder,

“The politics of inevitability is the idea that there are no ideas. Those in its thrall deny that ideas matter, proving only that that they are in the grip of a powerful one. The cliché of the politics of inevitability is that ‘there are no alternatives. To accept this is to deny individual responsibility for seeing history and making change. Life becomes a sleepwalk to a pre-marked grave in a pre-purchased plot.”

 

Of course, if there are no choices there is no personal freedom, for we can’t do otherwise. We only have personal responsibility if we also have freedom. How could we be responsible for something we cannot possibly avoid? That is the sense in which responsibility and freedom are conjoined.

But freedom can be lost. First comes cynicism then comes tyranny whether in the form of authoritarianism, fascism or totalitarianism. That is the end of the road to unfreedom. The other two are stops along the way. At least this is how I interpret these difficult concepts.

In the United States the politics of inevitability meant that “capitalism was unalterable and democracy inevitable.”  Things could have been very different for Russia and Ukraine had the Americans not been under the spell of this illusion. That contented state did not last long. By the 1910s people were beginning to realize that his had been a pipe dream. Nothing was inevitable or unalterable. As Snyder said, “The twentieth century was well and truly over, its lessons unlearned. A new form of politics was emerging in Russia, Europe, and America, a new unfreedom to suit a new time.

Until then,

 “Americans and Europeans were guided through the new century by a tale about “the end of history,” by what I will call the politics of inevitability, a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done. In the American capitalist version of this story, nature brought the market, which brought democracy, which brought happiness. In the European version, history brought the nation, which learned from war that peace was good, and hence chose integration and prosperity.”

 

As Snyder posits: Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 it too had a version of the politics of inevitability:

“nature permits technology, technology brings social change; social change causes revolution; revolution enacts utopia. When this turns out not to be true, the European and American politicians of inevitability were triumphant. Europeans busied themselves completing the creation of the European Union in 1992. Americas reasoned that the failure of communist story confirmed the truth of the capitalist one. Americans and Europeans kept telling themselves their tales of inevitability for a quarter century after the end of communism, and so a millennia generation without history.”

 

Americans thought they had achieved a new world order of which they were the sole superpower. The Americans believed they were the inevitable driving force of history that would push the world to the utopia of capitalism without rivals. That was an illusion—a deadly one at that. From that mistake a lot of misery for Russia and Ukraine was born.

Oligarch-in-Chief: The Road to Unfreedom

 

The end of the Cold War saw a slowdown in such foreign interventions.  But it did not mean the end of autocracy of the beginning of democracy around the world. There was a lot of hope that Russia would become a democracy, but it did not happen.

 

The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the country transformed from socialism into a chaotic form of capitalism, presided over by then-president, Boris Yeltsin. It had a free market economy but it never achieved democracy. It was a near anarchic state where all kinds of groups in varying states of criminality competed for dominance. It was a free market free for all.

 

In 2000, Yeltsin was replaced by Vladimir Putin a former KGB agent. His first goal was to stabilize the country, something it urgently needed.  Putin did not affirm a competitive oligarchy, but he did facilitate an oligarchy nonetheless. As Yale historian Timothy Snyder said, “it was a form of oligarchy. What some people would call autocracy.

 

“So under President Yeltsin in the 90s, Russia was a much freer country,” says Snyder. It was by no means a liberal democracy. As Timothy Snyder said,

There was much greater freedom of press. And there were rival clans of oligarchs. What Mr. Putin has done is assert himself as the oligarch-in-chief and use the organs of the state to crowd out all the oligarchs who didn’t come to an acceptable deal with him.”

Oligarchs were acceptable provided they acknowledged the supremacy of Putin. As Snyder said,

“He’s created a semi-permanent form of oligarchy where there’s just one clan rather than competing clans and that one clan controls both politics and the economy. I would characterize it as an oligarchy with moments of Christian fascism.”

 

Ivan Ilyin was an interesting Christian fascist thinker of the first half of the twentieth century. He is no longer very known. I had never heard of him before I  read Timothy Snyder’s book, the Road to Unfreedom and listened to the CBC Ideas show “Money Rules: How capitalism is destroying democracy”. I think if you want to understand what is happening in Russia and Ukraine this book would be worth a read. I read it a couple of years ago and have recently been perusing it again. It is worth it.   Snyder argued in the 20s and 30s that Russian was going to save the world. He saw the west as a place of fragmentation exemplified by its mess pluralism and that Russia would bring it back to unity. That view, of course, was very attractive decades later to Vladimir Putin. Russia was the country that would return God to earth. Everything would become perfect and total. To me that seems like the roots of totalitarianism.

 

Snyder characterized the society that Putin has created in Russia this way:

“He’s created a semi-permanent form of oligarchy where there’s just one clan rather than competing clans and that one clan controls both politics and the economy. I would characterize it as an oligarchy with moments of Christian fascism.”

 

It is a society that mobilizes capitalist technology such as the television and the internet to support the authoritarian rulers. Putin became surprisingly efficient with such technology as shown in the Ukraine in 2014 and later in what one would have thought the most unlikely place, namely,  the United States in 2016. We are seeing more of it again in Ukraine in 2022. Snyder also called it “an oligarchy with moments of imperialism…and  a media centred oligarchy which has some fascist moments and which has some imperial moments.”

That is what we are seeing now Russia and Ukraine. It ain’t pretty.

 

 

The Dominant Ideology Sucks

 

Why do so many people distrust the government and the leading institutions of their country?  That is the question I have been trying to solve in my own meandering and no doubt annoying style.

 

Many people, even poor people, have been sucked in by the dominant ideology.  Such people, for example, say something like this: ‘I am not any-vaccine, I just want to exercise my personal choice.” They see everything through the lens of personal choice. Now I am also big on personal choice and being responsible for my choices, but I don’t want to forget about the common good either. Sreedhar and Gopal  interviewed a woman from the residential complex where Mr. Steed lived, Amanda Santiago and this was her attitude. Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal pointed this out in their essay in the New York Times about one of the residents of a lower class housing project in the Bronx: “A growing body of research suggests that Ms. Santiago’s views reflect a broader shift in America, across class and race. Without an idea of the common good, health is often discussed using the language of “choice.” We must remember all such choices, which we are allowed to make, have consequences.

For example, Kyrie Irving is a basketball star. He advocated for personal choice and decided not to take the vaccines. As a result, he is so far missing the entire basketball season, and he is accepting the consequences in lost earnings. He can afford it. In Steinbach we have Pastor Tissen from the Church of God restoration who used the same language of personal choice.

This is what Sreedhar and Gopal say about personal choice:

Of course, there’s a lot of good that comes from viewing health care decisions as personal choices: No one wants to be subjected to procedures against their wishes. But there are problems with reducing public health to a matter of choice. It gives the impression that individuals are wholly responsible for their own health. This is despite growing evidence that health is deeply influenced by factors outside our control; public health experts now talk about the “social determinants of health,” the idea that personal health is never simply just a reflection of individual lifestyle choices, but also the class people are born into, the neighborhood they grew up in and the race they belong to.”

 

Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal pointed out some important things about personal choices and Covid-19 when the social determinants of health are ignored:

 “Vaccine uptake is so high among wealthy people because Covid is one of the gravest threats they face. In some wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods, for example, vaccination rates run north of 90 percent.

For poorer and working-class people, though, the calculus is different: Covid-19 is only one of multiple grave threats.”

 

For people who live in poor areas such as the Bronx, Covid is not as big a threat as they face every day from other sources such a drug related crime, hostile police, racism, and unreasonable landlords, to name just a few. In such a context Covid is not really that scary and as a result vaccine hesitancy is not irrational.  Sometimes distrust is rational.

As a result, attitudes to Covid are quite naturally different between the lower and upper classes in such neighbourhoods. As Sreedhar and Gopal said,

“Most of the people we interviewed in the Bronx say they are skeptical of the institutions that claim to serve the poor but in fact have abandoned them. “When you’re in a high tax bracket, the government protects you,” said one man who drives an Amazon truck for a living. “So why wouldn’t you trust a government that protects you?” On the other hand, he and his friends find reason to view the government’s sudden interest in their well-being with suspicion. “They are over here shoving money at us,” a woman told us, referring to a New York City offer to pay a $500 bonus to municipal workers to get vaccinated. “And I’m asking, why are you so eager, when you don’t give us money for anything else?” These views reinforce the work of social scientists who find a link between a lack of trust and inequality. And without trust, there is no mutual obligation, no sense of a common good.”

 

The cost of distrust is enormously high, as we have been discovering.  We really should not be surprised that so many people distrust the government so much that they refuse to take lifesaving vaccines. The world’s elites are paying a big price for allowing the poor to feel abandoned. Unfortunately, so are the rest of us.

 

Heat is Here

 

Many people don’t realize this but it’s true.  In Manitoba when it comes to extreme weather, more people die from heat than cold! To me that is unbelievable. And with rising global warming things are bad now but will soon get worse.

As Mia Rabson reported in the Winnipeg Free Press,

“A new report examining the health impacts of climate change says more Canadians than ever are facing serious health risks from heat waves and wildfires, prompting warnings from doctors that we need to do more to adapt to the reality of a warmer planet.”

 

There is little doubt that this problem is created by human activity and not natural conditions.  This was made clear by a report in Lancet Countdown led by Marina Romanello, a biochemist at London’s Institute for Global Health. As Rabson reported,

“In Canada, the authors note, the heat dome that descended on British Columbia and parts of the Prairies in June and July “would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.”

 

Romanello also said, “This year we saw people suffering intense heat waves, deadly floods and wildfires. These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.” That heat wave in B.C. last several weeks and recorded a temperature of 49.6 C, the highest temperature ever seen in Canada. And that is was in B.C. where we only expect mild temperatures.

In other words, the apocalypse is here. Don’t wait for it because it will only get worse. If we are smart, we will halt it here and now, but we can’t make things better. A lot of climate change is already locked in.

According to the Lancet article that heat wave of which we had a milder version in Manitoba caused the death of 570 people in Canada. Think about that 570 deaths in Canada, a northern country!  According to that report,

“Across Canada, the risk of death from extreme heat for Canada’s seniors rose more than 50 per cent in the last four years, compared with the years 2000 to 2004. Exposures to wildfires grew almost 20 per cent in that time, but not uniformly, with Indigenous Peoples at much higher risk.”

 

Inevitably, First Nations people get the short end of the stick. Rabson reported that “First Nations people living on a reserve are 33 times more likely to be forced to evacuate due to a forest fire than people living off reserve, the Lancet report said.”

That is not just because so many indigenous people live in forests. Many of them live in cities.

The report also said that around the world 20% of the world’s land surface suffered extreme drought in 2020 when the annual drought’s never exceeded that once between 1950 and 1999.

Who still thinks I am alarmist when I say the environmental apocalypse is here and now? As Dr. Courtney Howard an emergency physician in Yellowknife and past president of, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said this year the focus was more heavily on the need for adapting to the fact that “climate change isn’t just real, it’s already hurting us”.

The authors of that report made another very interesting observation:

“The authors are also highly critical of the federal government for allowing itself to be heavily influenced by lobbying from the oil and gas industry. They said in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fossil fuel industries and associations met with federal officials 1,224 times, an average of 4.5 meetings every day.

Comparatively, they say environment groups met with federal officials 303 times.

“Energy transition policy must be developed without such excessive industry pressure,” the report said.”

This is another example of what I have called predatory capitalism. That is something I intend to say more about in future blog posts. When creatures are weak and suffering the predators circle.