In a discussion about politics in America, Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short and Moneyball, said the rift isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, it’s between the people who are in it for the mission and the people who are in it for the money.
This “mission” or “money” distinction is a good way to understand and evaluate the political rhetoric Albertans will be hearing from the UCP in the runup to the 2019 election.
Mission or money?
Jason Kenney has asked his supporters to lay off their hateful, racist, homophobic rhetoric (yes, it’s a big ask) and focus on the “NDP’s failed policies”. Assuming Kenney succeeds in muzzling his supporters we should brace for a tsunami of misinformed, if not downright dishonest, attacks on NDP policies.
These attacks will include strawman arguments that allege:
- the progressive tax punishes the rich and therefore hurts the economy
- regulatory oversight of business is excessive, chases away capital investment, and therefore hurts the economy
- unions and the new minimum wage inflate wages, negatively impact competitiveness, and therefore hurt the economy,
- privatization of education and healthcare is more efficient, saves tax dollars, and therefore helps the economy while giving Albertans greater “choice”
All of this will be wrapped up in a shiny blue “Bring Back the Alberta Advantage” bow.
The partisans will lap it up.
A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail (Aug 4, p O10) stated “…the absolute partisan doesn’t only believe strongly in her party’s values; she loathes people who don’t. What’s more, she hews to those values not because she finds them valid, but because the party has decreed them.”
For decades Conservatives have decreed the path to prosperity is through balanced budgets, lower taxes, privatization, deregulation and a minimal welfare state. This belief is set in stone, consequently there is no need to provide evidence to support this position and any evidence to the contrary can be dismissed out of hand…because, well, because Jason says so.
Partisans may be deaf to contrary points of view, but Albertans with an open mind will be interested in additional facts.
Writers like Robert Kuttner have outlined the advances made in the US, the United Kingdom and Europe in the post war period with the election of “activist” governments that regulated private capital, broke up monopolies, protected and empowered unions and created a social safety net that provided public healthcare, public education and social security which ushered in a period of great stability and opportunity.*
Kuttner says this period of broad prosperity and democracy began to erode in the 1980s when conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher adopted economic policies that emphasized deregulation and privatization, curtailed the power of unions and drastically reduced social welfare programs.
These destructive changes came with the promise of unparalleled prosperity which failed to materialize as income inequality increased and the world became even more insecure.
They don’t care
Okay, let’s assume Kenney and the UCP are banking on the fact that most people don’t have the time or the inclination to research the economic and political history of the western world; a simple way to assess the merits of the UCP attacks on NDP policies is the application of Michael Lewis’s “mission” or “money” test.
Assume “mission” means most Albertans and “money” means a select few who will benefit financially and ask:
- if we return to a flat tax on income who benefits, most Albertans or the top 10%?
- If regulatory oversight of businesses is relaxed who benefits, most Albertans or shareholders of companies with less rigorous environmental, health and safety, and financial reporting obligations?
- If unions are weakened and the minimum wage is decreased who benefits, the 300,000 Albertans making less than the minimum wage and the 90,000 unionized Albertans working in healthcare, education, government and the private sector or business owners making higher profits?
- If education and healthcare are privatized (paid for with public tax dollars but delivered by private corporations) who benefits, most Albertans or owners of businesses profiting from the new business model and the small segment of the population who can afford to access private services?
At end of day, Albertans need to ask themselves whether the UCP attacks on NDP policy are based on a desire to improve the “mission”—a better government for most Albertans—or improve the “money” for those who demand prosperity regardless of the social cost.
*Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? By Robert Kuttner