Fixing the World


As we listened to a story of a disabled woman in Quebec being denied assistance because her elderly mother had the foresight to set up a small trust fund for her future care, my wife said: See, that’s what happens when we let conservatives run things. They’ve destroyed everything and I wonder if it can ever be put back together again.

I agree, of course, conservatives have done a real job on the world and I sometimes despair of ever fixing it. But by conservatives, I don’t mean Stephen Harper or the American Tea Party or Angela Merkal in Germany. Conservative thinking plagues us all. Even progressives (or so-called ones) like Tony Blair an Barrack Obama have been complicit in going down the path of economic mess and environmental disaster — though not as complicit as some.

Conservative thinking leads us to want to ‘conserve,’ that is to keep what we have and to stick to the tried and true. Conservative thinking always looks backward and this tendency to think of the past as the model for the future plagues the left as surely as it does the right.

Take globalization. It is viewed as an unmitigated disaster by those on the left and they call for a return to localism, protectionism and Canada (or America) First programs. Yet, it is clear that trade and the use of comparative advantage increases total wealth in the world. When bank economists point to the fact of growing GDP in developing countries, they are not making it up.

The problem is not with growing wealth created by global economics. The problem is with the grossly unequal distribution of that wealth both in the developed West and in the rest of the world. A small percentage becomes as rich as Croesus while the majority are left in relative or absolute poverty. And it’s getting worse.

The problem is that our political systems have not kept pace with our economic and technological ones. Individual governments are unable to impact the international flow of capital — or even chase down tax evaders — and institutions created 75 years ago, like the World Bank, entrench rules that are rooted in the past and easily exploited by clever and rapacious entrepreneurs. Or, worse yet, by bureaucratic and unaccountable corporations.

We are told it is impossible. Yet creative, progressive thinkers have thought of ways to stem the flow of flighty capital. The Tobin tax, if it had been implemented ten years ago would likely have prevented the 2008 meltdown. In combination with new voluntary controls on markets that limit the speed at which transactions are allowed to occur (a fascinating example of capitalists wanting to remain capitalists but only in a fair game), international mechanisms could see global growth carried out in a way that reduces inequality and protects an increasingly fragile environment.

But we won’t get there with conservative thinking — whether it comes from the right or the left. We need to be innovators, change makers, and most of all, people with a collective vision to make the world a better place — so we no longer have to worry about austerity driving good people to do bad things.

But that’s ten minutes.


2 thoughts on “Fixing the World

  1. jeanlouist

    Well, the point of conservative thinking is keeping what is best and works best. And that is pretty much inarguable, whether in economics or in the environment. The problem lies in identifying what is best and works best, which is complicated by a couple of factors: short-term thinking and the easily gained conviction that the grass is always greener on the other side. We are currently hitting what is, I hope, peak short-term capitalism, which began in the late 1960s with the dismantling of the Bretton Woods system under Nixon and the rise of the Friedmanists, from Chile in 1973 to Reagan, Thatcher, and Mulroney in the 1980s. This seemed justified by sputtering growth and inflation spurred by the oil shock and Nixon’s very decision to jettison part of the Bretton Woods system. In the years since, there has been growth, but there have also been deep recessions and increasing concentration of wealth at the top. Now that we can consider the long-term effects of abandoning the regulation of capitalism sought by Keynes and implemented by Roosevelt and the post-WWII mixed economies, it is no longer so clear that the boom and bust cycle of unfettered capitalism performs that much better than the steadier approach of mixed economies and regulated capitalism, especially if we take into account social welfare and social mobility. Especially if real growth ultimately depends on the positive externality of investments in scientific and technological creativity that can only be undertaken collectively.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One might hope we’ve reached the end — but there are tremendous interests in maintaining a broken system and few tools currently in place to provide opportunities. I guess what I’m suggesting is that new circumstances require new approaches. Just as Bretton Woods and Keynes came out of specific historical structures so too must new approaches be forged from today’s realities.


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