“The fascism we deserve”?

My fellow blogger on RPPE (Mr Travis Fast) says that the question is not “if another world is possible for in the abstract it always is. The real question is how and under what conditions it could be possible.”

I have also been thinking about the conditions for making another world during the run up to the federal elections here in Canada. But as we face the possibility of a Harper majority, one of the things I have been struck by is the inability of those who want something other than a Harper majority to really think through and thus act to address the question of political lassitude.

The only piece I have seen on the issue is one by Murray Dorbin, who tried to answer the question on Rabble.com by rightly claiming that “we have a population that is disengaged from its own community and its history. That means [it is] disconnected from a key source their moral core. Politics makes a difference if you are connected to each other. Otherwise, not so much.”

But Murray Dorbin’s article then waxes on about “traditional democracy” and the fact that the elite classes no longer respect the institutions of a post WWII social contract.

But all this got me thinking about the relationship between aggregate experience (the form of a society) and individual experience. That is to say, I am also bewildered by why there are no courageous attempts at reform in Canada? Well, one thing that I have found is that it seems really hard for people to have both a sense of reality and a sense of justice at the same time. People can think about how we “ought” to live but they cannot connect those “oughts” to reality. By this I mean they cannot connect those “oughts” to how they organize their daily existence. The good life is thus an abstraction of fine platitudes but has no real bearing on reality—sort of like heaven. But for me this raises the issue of the relationship between the discipline required to think about reality and reality itself– that is, how can we recognize the limits inherit to reality and also establish processes to help overcome those limits. And then it hit me that a “liberal” society systematically deprives people of the practical memory as well as the conceptual tools to deal with discipline as fairness and justice. This is because experience in market society is organized so that it appears that there is no relationship between desire and deprivation of desire except as a market principle (see my posts on romantic love for further clarification on this point). In any case, under such conditions any sense of a shared world or collective struggle thus seems old fashioned, authoritarian, primitive, or whingey.

I went to school in the 3rd world, and later I attended UBC where I completed my undergrad education. Everything about the way I was raised, from the primary and secondary school I attended, to the streets I walked on, taught me that people who work together can change the world(decolonization was still fresh on our minds). UBC was a total shock for me, because, what I took for a global conversation was totally absent from the school curriculum in the Department of History (no less). In any case the streets of my childhood did not teach me about a shared world in some didactic way, what I knew was that some folks grabbed some space and reorganized power at the institutional level so that I had a thoroughly post-colonial education. Thus, my high-school ‘A’ level curriculum included the readings of one Dr Walter Rodney.

Today, in my scholarly work I am still having a conversation with the way that power was reorganized in the 3rd world in the post WWII era, but clearly I know the conditions for having the conversation. But what seems apparent to me is that the concomitant experience of power grabbing and reorganization that happened in Canada is absent from the way we imagine the WWII social compromise in Canada. Instead, as Dorbin would have it, elites were just nice guys who all of a sudden wanted to respect democracy.

What was the saying: “A country gets the fascism it deserves”?

So, unless we start organizing so as to return experience back to critical thought, this above statement will be more true than ever. What this means for me is that we need to build spaces of solidarity that can address the form society takes at the aggregate level and at the same time address everyday experience. Unions used to do this, but then we all became concerned with being respectable, polite, and rational. But, such a discussion cannot provide us with the power base through which to connect thought to experience.

And this is a question of power, I think.

Otherwise, who cares about a blog or textbooks or romantic love? Only the solitary you, my friends.

The MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) and public choice

Just in case you were wondering how the firestorms in North Africa were being spun in the policy circles of the great powers, check out the latest highly instructive speech by the president of the World Bank (see link below). What Zoellick reminds us of is that street protests are really a demand to equitably distribute economic incentives  so that everyone can behave like economic maximizers. Indeed, he reminds us that economists can bring the political back into economics by reducing democracy to incentives that produce economically rational behaviour.

Apparently people are dying on the streets for the right to be incentivized so that they can behave like Homo Economicus! And what Homo E really is all about is self-evident too, so that the only problem until till now in the MENA countries is that the right incentives did not exist because Oriental desposts were too greedy and hoarded all the economic rewards that existed in the country.

Bloody clan system!

In any case now the World Bank has learnt its lesson. It now know knows that all human being are economically rational (secretly we are all moderns, it is just the clan system that keeps us down).

Thus, from now on the World Bank is willing to partner with anyone in the MENA countries (especially the women)who will free up the flow of incentives so that people all over MENA will become happier.

It is only rational.


And so the WB finds yet another way to absolve itself from thinking about market failure over the past 30 years in the MENA countries. And  so to0 it can really and truly keep the political away from the economic.

But also telling is that this market place of incentives and rewards is what Zoellick thinks democracy in the West is all about too.

And I quote: “These [incentives] are not luxuries reserved only for developed countries. They reflect on the quality of governance. They improve public policy. They signal integrity. They communicate respect for the public. They treat public office as a trust.  They may sound political, but they are certainly economic.

These topics are part of the economics of public choice.  The public choice theorists cautioned us to think about how governments really work, compared with how we might wish them to work.  The public choice advocates have called for better incentives and opportunities for citizens to monitor government more effectively.  They are right.”

(Zoellick, April 2011)

What an innovative vision of humanity!

To find out more about how the World Bank spins protest from 1848 until 2011, follow the link (and yes, Zoellick really does mention 1848):


The False Dichotomy: Minimum Wages Vs WITB

As designed, the WITB (Canada’s version of the US earned income tax benefit) is not structured to increase the minimum annual full time wage.  In most provincial jurisdictions the WITB kicks out just before or just after the minimum annual full time wage is achieved.

For example a single person earning minimum wage working full time of 35 hours a week in Quebec will have an annual gross income of between 14,000 and 15,000.  The WITB for the lower amount is 230$ for the year or 19.16 per month.  The WITB for the higher amount is 30$ a year or 2.50$ per month!

As is clear from the example above the WITB is designed to phase out at the point a full time minimum wage salary is achieved.  The whole point of the program is to make sure that there are not any tax penalties for working.   And it most definitely is not about augmenting the full time minimum wage.

So in sense those that argue in favour of the WITB over the minimum wage as a poverty alleviation strategy simply do not know what they are talking about because full time minimum wages are being used by the government to set the income threshold for the program.  That is, the only way in which WITB can be viewed as augmenting the minimum annual wage is if an individual works less than full time then the WITB kicks to augment the wage but outside of a narrow band not to the full time minimum wage level.

In the illustration above the WITB would contribute 230$ to someone working just shy of 35 hours a week 52 weeks a year. However, for someone working part time at minimum wages in Quebec, the WITB would kick in around 750$ a year effectively increasing the minimum wage by .78 cents an hour.

Hence it is only in the case of a part-time minimum wage worker that the WITB makes a meaningful adjustment to the minimum hourly wage.  However, in the last example provided above, someone working 20 hours a week at min wage including the WITB will have an annual income 8,640$.

Hardly a poverty arrestor.

Interestingly one of the perverse outcomes of the program is that there is a built in incentive for min wage employers to offer less than full time hours because the further away from full time the higher the level of the wage subsidy/premium.  The other perverse outcome (some will say a feature because it targets the worst of the worst off–part time min wage workers) is that unlike increases in the min wage which increase all min wage workers’ salaries the WITB only meaningfully increases part time min wages while doing little to nothing for full time min wage workers.