Ballicatter

Politics and Economics

Commentary

by

There is no doubt that our multitude of submissions rebound around the various intonations of both 'politics' and 'economics'. I say 'rebound around' rather than stipulatively define…why?

Ballicatter's call for submissions on our topic - Politics and Economics - did not specify or imply what either of these terms mean nor what images, thoughts or attitudes each probably would or should elicit. Ballicatter did not specify any given political agenda, ideology or conspiracy to be endorsed or criticized, constructed or destroyed (though I think there is an ideological pattern discoverable within several of the submissions). There was, then, right from Ballicatter's initial call for submissions an open ambiguity regarding the exact content and specific form submissions were to take. Other than the blocked list of terms no specific definitions and the absence of rules seem to be Ballicatter's norm. Indeed even the blocked list of terms can be easily subverted by substitution salve veritate.

It would be prudent to consider the form of the submissions alone given this ambiguity. Obviously the diverse morphology exhibited by submissions is made possible via the internet's capabilities; and I am willing to say that I was initially surprised, pleasantly surprised, that there were non-textual submissions. What I want to point out now is that the submissions' morphology alone is sufficient to demonstrate the effect of the initial ambiguity in the call for submissions.

For some ambiguity is eschewed and avoided; but for others this is not so. Exploring - purposely embracing the unknown and its ambiguity for the sake of seeing just what will be revealed - exploring seems a fitting description of the sort of creative act that was required by those who took up Ballicatter's ambiguous call.

As commentator, then, it appears that my task is to follow the various trails blazed or produced by the exploration of those who submitted work on the topic. My thoughts here chronicle what I have encountered on this venture. Perhaps this commentary can be considered a crude map of the territory traversed? This map is partly a simple description of what I found (i.e., so and so said this while some other person said that). But additionally - and we should consider this addition an important caveat on the content of my commentary - this crude map will inevitably also record what we could call my particular perspective or those features of the terrain that I fixated upon because of my personal history as a means of orienting myself in the face of the ambiguity of Ballicatter's request, the disparate forms of submissions and the various content contained therein. Sometimes the features I fixate upon are technical, at times mathematical; other features fixate language. Sometimes I try to be funny. Other times I try to be controversial, analytical, political. Purposeful ambiguity I employed at least once. I erased a fair bit of once-written material too.

I have commented on how I perceive my task and activities. Next I make some comments on each piece in turn.

Cook's "Change of Faith" focuses our attention on the monetary aspect of economics: credit, stocks, financial institutions, exchange and its means. Cook's poem's emphasis is on the fact that today's world is very 'this-worldly.' By 'this-worldly' I mean that a good many of us do not orient our activities to preparing for the after-life or appeasing and praising some transcendent Deity. Rather, Cook's poem suggests we are concerned with enriching ourselves during this life. For Cook it seems that the place of salvation and bliss is here and now in the form of the power that money can buy.

I think the main point of Cook's piece is that the pious, as they have the past, will make way for the Simoniacs. St. Peter's gate can now be opened with a Debit Card. Cook orates explicitly the crude theology of modern life and its monetarized, economic piety.

The omnicultural part of multiculturalism is money: for this the majority of us will submit and co-ordinate ourselves into a giant synergism of happy consciousnesses in spite of our incongruent theology, ethic, history, politics, party, ideology, orientation, etc. I do not suspect that Cook endorses the situation wherein the omnnicultural homage paid to monetary prosperity displaces the more noble parts of our incongruencies; though I do suspect that he suggests such a displacement has already begun.

I suspect that Cook would prefer the situation to be some other way. My suspicion here is generated by the tone that I perceive in the first portion of his piece.

In the first portion I hear Cook's tone as wide-eyed, sarcastically caustic, yet hortative. The pilgrimage to Bay Street is not as enlightening as the road to Damascus. Bay Street seems to have left a bad taste in Cook's mouth. Still - and in spite of the disinclination the pilgrimage to Bay Street generates - for Cook the pilgrimage to Bay Street issues forth new maxims for life:

Check your e-stocks.
Give them your debit card.
Cash a cheque.

These first few lines exhort the new commandants. Follow these to ensure access to Nirvana.

But it is the end of Cook's poem that leaves me wondering. At the beginning I do not perceive his tone as jubilant: his new commandments are not 'get used to freedom' or 'relax, your prosperity is assured.' Instead Cook begins by warning us, by giving us new commandments as if we are about to encounter unknown dangers, as if we are not prepared to regulate our conduct in the light of these unknown dangers. 'Check your e-stocks'. Indeed check them often, for God was not the CEO of ENRON.

But why - and this is the moment that generates my perplexing wonder- why at the end of Cook's poem is it "right" to give thanks and praise for our daily debt? Should we not become revolutionary - and violently revolutionary if need be - rather than be submissive and obedient to the false God? Or is it ultimately the case that, at least in secret, Cook welcomes the prosperity e-Nirvana holds? Perhaps in secret we all welcome - indeed are already implicitly welcoming - this (monetarized) prosperity given that even our own multi-medium, nearly-instantaneous electric Ballicatter is itself premised upon such prosperity and the system for its production. . .

My point here is not to speculate upon Cook's secrets; it would be better if he helped us by divulging more of those himself in a manner as engaging as his current poem. Nor is my point here to suggest that our practical actions containing our real desires oftentimes betray our ideological orientation. Instead my ultimate aim here is simply to illustrate that there is a dissonance within both Cook's poem and our practical activities. This dissonance is between the state we are in (at the start of the poem) and the attitude we should have towards it (and the end of the poem), or between the actual choices we do make and the ideal choices we think we should make. Indeed it may have even been Cook's intention to illustrate this dissonance.

To focus moreso upon this dissonance I think there is a telling display in the act that we see undertaken at the end of Cook's poem: prayer. I think Cook's act of prayer - an ever so human act which oftentimes emerges in the face of the too large, the unknown and the mysterious, an act which often emerges in the face of the multiple yet uncontrollable forces regulating our physical and social reality - this act of prayer indicates a submission, a specific form of submission, to the unknown, the too large and the mysterious. I do not think the act of prayer indicates an attitude of welcoming endorsement toward our Change of Faith on Cook's part, even though he thinks it is 'right' to give thanks and praise.

To explain my response we need consider the specific form of submission I have in mind.

For many people there is just as much mystery in the operation of the economic system as in the creative acts, the occasional acts, the miracles and the like, of the now out-competed former deities to whom we once poured forth our faith. When we do not understand something we will hope that the principles governing its operation are the best and that we are being implicitly guided along the optimal course even though we do not understand how or to what end. Prayer is the expression of this hope in submission in the face of the differentials between our understanding and our ignorance, our power, the world's resistance to it, and the yet to be known outcome of the world's uncontrollable future.

'Faith' embodied in prayer is, then, perhaps even for Cook, that act of submission which embodies hope in the face of the unknown, the too large and the mysterious. We need note that Cook's second commandment is 'give them your debit card.' Should I not be more protective of my assets? Does Cook want us to give them our PIN number too? Ought I have so much faith in the system?

Faith, or submission in hope and hope in submission, can appear if the too large, mysterious and unknown is the universe itself, what has been called that "fearful sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."1 Or submission in hope and hope in submission can appear if the too large, mysterious and unknown is the system of world production. The same affect can occur in theology, economics, philosophy, etc. Is it the mystery of this system of world production combined with our dependence upon it and the elites in control of it that overwhelm us by the end of the poem and force the prayer to emerge and act as a salve for our anxieties about what exactly we should do and who we should trust to ensure our own subsistence and welfare?

Surely we could generate more questions given Cook's poem. However I think that there is only one question of superlative importance: into what should we put our faith if not the power of God or the power of money? And, secondly, if it is Bay Street and not some other-worldly creator that, to use Marcuse's phrase, "delivers the goods,"2 can we really expect people to have hopeless Job's strength of faith? For

what is the Almighty, that
we should serve him? And what
profit should we have, if we pray unto him?3

Hawkins' "Hard Pain" brings our attention to what I shall call economics' 'immediate' aspect. The image of a family farm where there is sufficient or nearly sufficient material for life's maintenance on that farm alone provides real purchase to economic life rather than merely its symbol, real death rather than just bankruptcy.

In some sense I view Hawkins' economic place as the Nadir of economic life, whereas Cook's place is the Zenith. Perhaps I can fine-tune my perception here by saying that the financial elites behind the altar in the bank-tabernacles from Cook's poem can neither make cloths out of nor eat the gold, the paper or the accountant's book-profits, whereas Hawkins' shepherd can make his clothes out of and eat his sheep.

What I want here is to remove the necessity of the medium of exchange or even exchange itself from the shepherd's economic life. I suppose the economic life of the shepherd may be what is called 'subsistence'. I prefer to describe our shepherd's economic life as 'immediate', for 'immediate' better underscores the inter-relation between production and consumption in the case of the shepherd: there is not another person, nor a symbol of exchange between the consumer and producer of goods in the case of the shepherd at the Nadir. This is not so with Cook's banker at the Zenith. The radius of economic life is larger at Cook's Zenith than at the shepherd's Nadir. The mystery required for the need of prayer in Cook's poem…does it arise as the distance between the producer and consumer grows larger and larger? And which of the points should define the telos of their combination?

Is the subsistence shepherd better off in his immediacy and exchangeless simplicity even though some of his hard-pained human flock is sometimes harvested as succulent veal and dandical boots for Death?

What of the father's solar invective against the "greedy April sun"? Has his bereavement just haphazardly concentrated his anger over his son's death into the April sun so as to escape the real cause of his son's death? Or does our shepherd think his son's death is a purposefully claimed and justly taken tithe extracted by the sun for the grass grown to feed the father's sheep? Why no prayers for the son or to the sun?

I also wonder if the greed of the April sun germinated greed amongst the farmer's more prosperous compatriots who deemed the wife's tears insufficient payment for medical intervention. Why did they take the boy to the mother and not to the hospital straight away? Why was the doctor so powerless to do anything but ask the boy about his symptoms? And is the subjective, first person report of a small boy in hard pain the best diagnostic tool for a doctor trained to analyze western medicine's l'homme machine? What was the boy's heart and respiration-rate? And the boy's blood-pressure? Cyanosis? Dry skin or Wet? Surely the 'doctor' could have at least alleviated the boy's hard pain with a palliative opiate rather than just let him painfully die of unknown causes. Why no compassion for this boy? He is a stranger to us except as tragedy.

Consider too how the last line of Hawkins' submission puts an inter-generational perspective upon household expansion and continuity. The bereaved farmer thinks of his son in his own place. If we extend the time scale of the bereaved farmer's thought then we can come to understand how such a thought might change in the father's mind as he thinks it: he eventually thinks of his son as a father of his own son watching his son chew the fat of a lamb. Perhaps the father's grief will foreclose further time-scale extensions, for he knows that there will not ever happen to be a reality akin to the bereaved father's final thought. The substance and potential for the son and grandson now lie as the living room floor's memorial.

What mystery is contained in the inch-thick crimson letters! White wool and crimson: is this contrast meant to sooth the bereaved or make them seethe? Why did the daughter not conform to her father's preference for simplicity in the son's memorial? The daughter, she wants crimson memories to stand out while the father, he wishes them suppressed. What pathology does this insufficiently betray? Hawkins leaves us wanting for more information: How old was this boy? Was he too young for too dangerous and too hard labour? Did the mother predict this? Why was the boy not in school?

Did the father cause the death of this boy? Hard Pain is rarely idiopathic.

Ryan's oratorical submission, "Changing Our Course", thankfully reminds us that economics and ethics are closely entwined. Exhortations to virtue should not go unheeded; nor should they go unanalyzed.

I think that for Ryan there is an obvious priority, ranking or evaluation occurring amongst the domains of politics, economics and ethics. For Ryan ethics trumps both politics and economics; the latter two should be made to conform to the ideals and principles of the former.

Extending the metaphor, Ryan consistently employs throughout his submission we could say that Ethics is Captain on his ship, Economics is at best an Ensign and Politics a Boatswain. What do I mean here more precisely? I mean that for Ryan if we are to defer to a rule of conduct all our practical decisions - the decisions regarding what we should do - then for Ryan that rule of conduct should be an ethical rule and not, for example, a rule of economics. For Ryan we should do the right thing even if this is at the expense of the profitable or the expedient thing to do. Thus the rule about the "unlimited and vicious pursuit of profit" should be displaced by, say, the rule "share the journey together".

I suggest Ryan would agree when I say we should not throw out today's unsold bananas and raise the price of tomorrow's to cover today's losses; rather we should give surplus bananas to people who are hungry and poor today and who cannot afford to buy more expensive bananas tomorrow. And I suggest that Ryan would agree when I say we should not starve people in one area of the country in order to save grain for inter-national sale to finance the industrialization of another area of the country.

There is a certain idealistic nobility to Ryan's endorsements. I think the source of this nobility is twofold.

First, there is the sense that Ryan's course is the best of all possible courses and that this would be so even if the actual world was different than it is.

Secondly, there is the sense that Ryan's course is an empirical or real possibility. For Ryan "it is a given fact that in the world we produce enough resources and wealth to more than meet the needs of us all." For Ryan, as I suspect for most people, the prosperity differential amongst our neighbours is obvious upon inspection if only we took care to look closely. For Ryan we have the technical and material means for producing and distributing enough for each person to live a full and vibrant life.

Thus, for Ryan, that there is the empirical or real possibility to meet the economic needs of everyone adds credibility to his ideal that we should meet the economic needs of everyone. An ideal 'We Should' + a material 'We can' = a practical 'We should.' Can we call this Ryan's 'moral equation'? The empirical - the 'that it is the case that' - the empirical for Ryan gives his ideal - the 'that it should be the case that' - the friction or purchase required to make the ideal do the work required of it (i.e., to cause that what should be the case to be the case).

For Ryan the second, empirical source of credibility prevents us from abandoning the first, ideal source on the grounds that the first is an 'ideal' in the pejorative, depreciating sense, i.e., as something that could not come about in fact or as something for which there is no material cause or method for its production. But Ryan is not trying to make water boil at 0 degrees Kelvin; he is only trying to (quite laudably) ensure everyone is living a full and vibrant life. For Ryan, the hard facts of the world would not prevent this ideal from coming about. Thus "there can be no escaping our shared responsibility for the problems of our neighbours, no matter how hard we may try at times." Still a question remains: why has not Ryan's situation already come about given that it is the best and that it is possible?

For Ryan the prime reason why his change of course has not already perfectly occurred is the failure of human will. For Ryan "our failure has been a failure to pick up the gauntlet." We refuse to share. We refuse to take account of our 'neighbours', especially the ones we do not know nor will ever see; and, in fact, we find it rather easy to justify killing these people for our own interests. We are bellicose and wasteful, mad, even. Capitalist Profiteering, Warfare, Corporatism - today's holy trinity. For Ryan "we have only to reject that great false beacon."

What I should like to do now is to focus upon one technical aspect of Ryan's submission. This technical aspect is called 'discounting.' Ryan's oration is, at least implicitly, an excellent example of discounting.

Focusing upon this technical aspect of Ryan's piece will help to explain Ryan's ideal more explicitly, quite mathematically in fact, while also showing us where it will encounter difficulties. The key feature in Ryan's piece where 'discounting' will be illustrative is Ryan's repeated use of 'neighbours.'

The prime reason why we are going into this technical digression on discounting and conjoining it with Ryan's use of 'neighbours' is to illustrate an interesting feature of political language such as Ryan's. Here, by combining discounting with Ryan's use of 'neighbours,' I aim to show that the meaning of 'neighbour' in his ethical endorsements may not have sufficient clarity to make his ideal work, or at the least that the meaning of neighbour can be brought into question.

'Discounting' is a technical term from economics and even in this domain it has various intonations; details about it are easy to find.4 But the simplest technical sense that I wish to employ requires us to consider a simple graph:

Fig 1: Importance in relation to Space and Time

On this graph the relative importance of an event is measured by the vertical scale; the distance in either space or time is measured along the horizontal scale. Notice how the relative importance of an event decreases as the spatial and temporal distance increases. What this means is that as the consequences of our present actions extend and affect people and places further away in time or space we tend to give those consequences, people and places less weight in our deliberations about what course of action we will take here and now. Clive Spash excellently summarizes (at least temporal) discounting in his piece Economics, Ethics, and Long-Term Environmental Damages:

Individuals prefer benefits now rather than later…Because I will be dead in thirty years, I am not thinking about a sustainable society three hundred years into the future.

We can go further into the details of discounting to get an even better idea of what Ryan is advocating.

Once we have the idea that (1) we prefer benefits here and now rather than latter somewhere else (the so-called "positive time preference" and the "positive space preference"); and once we have the idea that (2) we discount things far away in space or time, then we can discuss the (3) rate at which we will undertake such discounting (i.e., a debate about the slope of the line). This slope, Spash tells us, is known as the "social discount rate."

What we are going to do now is to quantify Ryan's social discount rate. We will make this calculation twice, once for space and once for time, for there seems to be a discrepancy between Ryan's spatial and temporal rates of discount.

In general there are three possible social discount 'rates'.

The first rate, a zero discount 'rate', does not actually discount places further away in time or space. Instead consequences further away in space or time have to be borne "as if" they have an "immediate effect."5 Far away at some other time must be thought of as here and now, so to speak.

The opposite of a zero rate of discount is an "infinite" rate of discount. With this rate, places far away in time or space are not given any importance at all. Perhaps I could call this 'here and now egoism.' An example: Spash's future three hundred years hence. Another example: Canadian fishery policies from the end of the war until the late 1980's: these policies certainly discounted the 1990's and beyond at a rather steep rate.

By far the most common rate is some positive rate between these two extremes, i.e., some x such that (0 < x > ?). This rate is described by Spash in the context of temporal discounting. "The future matters, but the degree of concern depends on the rate chosen."

Of course a good deal of controversy concerns how to establish the optimal social discount rate or for that matter if discounting should be used at all (i.e., a zero rate of discount should be employed).

Ryan's piece is clearly in favour of a zero rate of discount in the spatial context. "We are all one people on this small Earth." "We must accept that we do influence, in ways great and small, what happens in parts of the world we have never seen to people we shall never meet." These not-to be discounted people are, for Ryan, all our 'neighbours.'

But does not a zero rate of spatial discount require a bizarre change to the meaning of 'neighbour'? How can people far away who I have never met be my neighbour? 'Neighbour' - it seems to me that in its common use this term is the poster-term for spatial-discounting. It seems to me paradoxical to find it used in a political position advocating a zero rate of spatial discounting. Ryan's highly politicized 'neighbours' bear no resemblance to the people who live next door. Clickity Click Ballicatter trick?

In the temporal context, Ryan explicitly mentions a temporal axis of finite length, that is, "our children, and then our children's children." Three generations. What about the great-grandchildren of our children's children? Will Ryan, like Spash, infinitely discount the nth generation 300 hundred centuries hence? Should Socrates and his crowd be chastised for chopping down Athens' trees?6

Ryan does not clearly disambiguate his temporal rate of discount. But if we assume that Ryan would treat temporal discounting the same way as he treats spatial discounting - using a zero rate of temporal discount - does it make any sense to say that I can be the 'neighbour' of someone in Montreal in the year 2500 AD when I live in Hamilton in 2004?

Whether or not we can actually use a zero rate of discount for either time or space is questionable. A zero rate of discount for space seems easier to accept than a zero rate of discount for time. I think I can more easily have empathy for and more practical influence upon the person on the other side of the world now than some person on the other side of the world in a thousand years.

Ryan should be praised for his noble sentiment against positively discounting other people and places and times. But it is here - Ryan's use of a zero rate of discount - it is here that his prescriptions will come to lack the purchase or friction to do the work required of them. Employing a zero rate of discount is, I think, a rather radical position. I think the notion that we can always employ a zero rate of discount is an 'ideal' in the pejorative sense.

I might, lastly, speculate about the conviction that Ryan has about the capacity for us to employ a zero rate of discount for present space, an attitude that would ensure a more just distribution of the world's material goods, which, for Ryan, is so massive that everyone can be sustained.

Ryan observes that digital bank accounts "already have too many zeroes to ever be depleted in the real world." This observation is Ryan's ground for a revolution, an "assault" on states and corporations that "hoard untouchable capital like waste and refuse guarded savagely by a rat that will never actually eat it." For Ryan it seems we need only seize this capital and redistribute it.

What we need make note of is that a good deal of the world's 'capital' does not exist in the form of edibles or 'consumer goods' (i.e., shoes, loaves of bread and so on). Rather, a good chunk of the world's capital, most of it, exists in the form of 'producer's goods' (i.e., factories to make shoes, tractors to harvest grain, refineries to make the petrol and so on) that are used to make the consumer's goods.

Now, just what does Ryan want us to seize and redistribute? The edibles or consumer goods? Or the producer's goods?

Seizing only the consumer goods will not actually feed and cloth all the people. Even today there may not in fact be enough consumables to go around for many of the zeroes in the bank accounts measure producer's goods, not consumables. People cannot eat or wear tractors or factories. We cannot just take the 'capital' and redistribute it, for most of it is useless to the average consumer: a homeless man cannot eat the factory or a train. Besides, consumable supplies will eventually run out and more will need to be produced. Seizing all the consumer's goods just will not do. I doubt Ryan would be advocating only seizing the consumer goods.

So Ryan must be advocating that we seize the producer's goods and produce more consumables and distribute things better. However, seizing the producer's goods will interrupt and alter the nature of production, most likely lowering its capacity to produce a high volume of consumables. When this happens were enter dangerous ground for, we must remember, Ryan's revolution is premised upon the capacity or fact to produce an ample supply of consumables. How will Ryan, after he seizes production, regulate production so as to avoid perpetual scarcity or ten-thousand pound nails? Ryan must remember that we must be careful with regulating our economic ideals with ethical ideals (or vice versa) else we shall make our material condition worse rather than better.7

Ryan's piece is morally laudable and demonstrates a strong sense of empathy. Most people are too egoistic to care for people who are far away. His work demonstrates a systematic and almost mathematical ethic, but I suspect his utopia will remain a chimera.

Hehir's "Domino Effect" demonstrates his acerbity with politic and economics, especially the conspiratorial "power elite"8 and their lackeys at the head of these entwined domains.

Hehir recognizes that the socio-political domino effect works both ways. He, though, is unsatisfied with his current degree of leverage and is demanding more. "The only reform I want is electoral reform." Hehir clearly localizes his power preference; he is not calling for violent revolution or 'assaults' like Ryan. Nor would I think Hehir promote pie throwing.

Hehir suggests that Canada and its government form an extremely acquisitive creature. I doubt many people would disagree with him. A giant act of theft created this country. Displacing, segregating, and then exploiting the original inhabitants was even more profitable than killing them for cheap labour, which is always a hot commodity in Canada - just ask the early Chinese immigrants. Canada's right of 'ownership' - its sovereignty, is still guarded by a principle of crimson, kleptocratic violence: Dudley George, martyred revolutionary, for example, was dispatched by Canada's aboriginal principle of violent appropriation when he dared to challenge its royal prerogatives at Ipperwash. Is it any surprise that a 'temporary' income tax was created during a time of war when Canada needed more power to use violence? This is the prime prerogative of all states: submit to appropriation or suffer violence. I doubt that George's ancestors and present compatriots will disagree with Hehir's assessment that a "red kleptocracy" passed over and still passes over this land. Somehow, here, the literal and the metaphorical blend into one reality.

But our political elites, and Hehir seems fascinated with this group of people, these elites need a private home and a private cottage, an official residence and an official summer residence too; a salary to sustain a private car and plane and an official set of each too with official drivers for each; they need lots of vacation time to rest from all the official trips overseas to swap 'culture' or discuss 'trade,' especially trade in instantaneous, high-tech multi-medium communication. They need 500 000 dollars in lunch money and billions to keep track of the guns would-be revolutionaries would use to enforce ownership of their own production. Perhaps each person should assume sovereignty of his or her own production and tax taxes? Can I bill the government for the time required to fill out its forms? Who would enforce my bill even if we assume I was right? The money for all the elite's decadent entitlement and police state power has to come from somewhere and there are only so many people to exploit. So Hehir can love his 'free' country and eat its blueberries but only if he first gives seventy-five per-cent of them to the 'Queen,' ancient symbol of the Royal Canadian Principle of Violent Appropriation.

What wants to be asked is why Hehir only wants "electoral" reform and not, like Ryan, a full-fledged "assault"? Will political elites elected in a different way enact policies any different? A cabinet, a politburo, what's the difference? Both are too expensive.

I do not think Hehir is as revolutionary as Ryan or Dudley George. We can tell Hehir is angry - especially with those to whom we have 'entrusted' our physical safety. I can understand his anger for I have many relatives too close to Walkerton; after a short drive, I visited there as a child. But perhaps Hehir has too much control over his anger? Organized violence is not a part of Canada's (domestic) political culture, probably for the better. Perhaps Hehir is sublimating his violent, revolutionary energy into the mocking portrayal of Klein and Campbell. (We need not speculate why Campbell is shaking nor Klein hanging out the window yelling at the poor; one reason will do for both.) I do not think Hehir would capture Mike Harris and force-feed him a Walkerton cocktail. Perhaps if the elites who control the Canadian government were more afraid of the citizens they would treat the citizens' trust with more deference? Machiavelli is not just for princes.

Hehir asks the key question of any political elite: "can he pilot the ship?" But what does Hehir advocate if the answer is 'no' and the ship is going to sink before the nest election? I am not sure if 'electoral reform' is sufficiently mutinous to reap the bounty and freedom Hehir desires.

I do not think Hehir would get a rifle, some camouflage and then act preemptively by seizing the burial ground before it was turned into a golf course. In Canada the formal method for social change is an election and Hehir in spite of his anger still wants to play fair within these rules. But would Hehir's prescription for 'electoral reform' have been as successful as the Mohawk's strategy at Oka? I doubt it. Here we should remember Lu Xun's 'On Deferring Fair Play'…

If a man is unfair to you and you fair to him, you will suffer for it in the end: not only will you fail to get fair treatment, but it will be too late for you to be unfair yourself…If he does not deserve fair treatment, you had better not be polite.9

Pawlowich's video makes it possible to see the archetypal characterizations of Hehir's chain of socio-political dominos: from starving artists who look more like labourers at the wharf to the desk of the CEO or Minister of Finance: all the increments of the socio-economic hierarchy are arrayed in linear fashion. Even the over-fed suburban class gets its spot in the middle.

I am not sure if there was any deliberate reasoning behind putting the labouring class first: is there some priority here that he is trying to intimate about the source of real prosperity? Or is he in this liner projection measuring the amount of power each class has? It is after all the artists and labourers who start the hunger strike no one listens too. Who was supposed to listen?

There is an obvious argument to Pawlowich's piece. I conceive it as an argument against the way the total sum of production is distributed by the differential salaries which are almost inevitable given the division of labour. Those in the venerable edifice - 'they are so broad while he is so thin' - Pawlowich seems to have a distaste for this situation. Luckily those in the suburbs have enough to eat, probably too much for their own good.

Pawlowich peers from the bottom of the pole to the top. He realizes that the "venerable" edifice at the top is "vulnerable." But vulnerable to what? Hehir's "electoral reform" or Ryan's "assaults"? Do we really want to tinker with vulnerable things?

Perhaps the hunger strike can work for a few famous people such as Ghandi. But, for the mass of humankind, I think that if they planned on bettering their situation by means of a long hunger strike their fate would be the same as Franz Kafka's Hunger Artist: they too will starve to death and no one will notice.

Needless to say we could even applaud such a fate on the part of some 'artists.' For what does a hunger artist produce of any use to anyone, even hungry people not on strike? Hunger artists and artists simpliciter produce neither shelter, food, water, nor clothing. Why, I would want to ask, should artists get a large chunk of the socioeconomic pie just for making noise, pretty pictures, or Ballicatter?

The Heffernan interview blends all aspects of politics and economics into a single albeit important practical domain: Health Care. I do not think we should deride his compassion for Human welfare nor question his capacities for promoting health. Indeed were it not for precious hedonism and idleness we would all be healthier.

I do not think I could take any issue with his intention - universal human health. But we must wonder about his practical policies to that end. Take this passage of the interview:

Hospitals need to be better funded, restructured, and better staffed. Waiting lists are the hot topic in current debates - and Paul Martin probably envisions increasing funding for technology (CAT scans, etc.). But there is a definite shortage of physicians.

The federal government should have far more control over health care. There are drastic salary differences among physicians in B.C., Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador and all over Canada. Pay discrepancies lead to regional differences in quality and demand for physicians. If we are to have the 'universal' health care called for, it must be centrally controlled.

It seems safe to say that the policy advocated here is twofold: (1) increase the pay of doctors and (2) increase the central or federal controls upon health care.

Would not the amateur economist point out that a general economic rule is that scarce commodities command a higher price? Again, the amateur economist would point out that, as general rule, labour is a great cost. Such an economist would also point out that technology helps increase the efficiency of labour or eliminates entirely the need for some of it (hence the increased funding for 'expert systems' rather than living experts).

Given the above rules and given that physicians are in short supply and are expensive would it not be most economical for the Canadian taxpayer to (1) train or import three times the number of physicians we actually require and (2) reduce the amount of administrative costs?

I would think that given a more than ample amount of doctors they will then be forced to fight for the few positions open to them and they will be forced to work for less and less. Small towns could hire two doctors for the price of one and the excess one-third we could send to Dafur, Afghanistan, Iraq or some such place to help the people there. Maybe Canada could work off the shame of Srebeniza and Rwanda and with its cadre of excess doctors?

What I fail to see is how Heffernan's policy proposals could accomplish their intended goal: for if there are a large number of waiting patients and a finite supply of doctors and money, how could more patients be treated and cared for by paying the finite supply of doctors more money and giving them more time off, while at the same time spending money on more central or federal administrative personnel - personnel who would not treat any additional patients? I think we should follow Hehir's advice and keep the money of out of the hands of The Great Canadian Kleptocracy.

Of course Heffernan suggests that we could use far more doctors: but until the price goes down or we get more money this is not a realistic alternative.

What we do not find in Heffernan's policy proposals is the traditional manner of dealing with resource allocation for production and consumption: market discipline.

Notice, first, that Heffernan advocates increasing the supply of doctors without saying that this will lower their cost. He wants more doctors and more pay for doctors. Is this not contrary to 'normal market mechanisms'? Why should the doctors not be "vulnerable" to the same forces that keep the people not near the high edifice hungry? Why does he not advocate increasing the ease at which foreign-trained doctors can be certified for work in Canada? Would this not flood the Canadian market with doctors, displace Canadian medical school jobs and, in a word, lower the political and economic power of Canadian doctors, doctors who want to be insulated from the world in an upper-middle class economic bubble.

The new buzzword I have heard for those 'professions' sliding down the socio-economic scale (i.e. doctors) is the 'white-collar proletariat.' Long hours, hard work, low wages, international competition, market mechanisms. These are the norm for most of the population. The last half-century of post-war bliss… perhaps this is over, even for the doctors?

Endnotes

Respond to “Commentary”

Editions