Shucking oysters or a steady state economy?


We went out to dinner with friends this weekend. We had a wonderful evening, but… I’d ordered a dish with jumbo prawns, which, I realized after the first bite, had gone off. I managed to spit it out without embarrassment and the waitress replaced the prawns. But the damage was done; I couldn’t eat.

Somehow, this was a metaphor for things I’d been thinking about: the power of our individual vote, the events in the Middle East, and sustainable economies, all of which have the smell of decay.

Let’s start with the Middle East. I read that John Baird, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently headed a junket to Libya with a planeload of Canadian business people, including representatives from Suncor, the oil and gas company, SNC-Lavelin, the giant engineering company, and Pure Technologies, a pipeline company. All three of these companies had already been doing work in Libya for Gaddafi. Now that he’s been conveniently dispatched, it’s back to business, with the Canadian government pledging $10 million to get rid of hand-held weaponry in order to “demilitarize” and “democratize” the country.

Noble sentiments. But what’s really going on is clear. Canada and the rest of its NATO allies are using military force to crack open these dictatorships in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, etc. (that just happen to be close to the valuable resources we want), then allowing our corporations to scoop the vitals out of the shell, in effect oyster shucking someone else’s resources.

It’s no coincidence that Gaddafi, from 1969 to 1988, was recognized by Libyans as a hero who reformed the banking system, provided education for his people, spent on building a social safety net for his people and nationalized the country’s oil and freshwater aquifer reserves—and that this closed, socialist system wasn’t exactly embraced by the international business community, which wanted easy access to Libya’s resources.

From 1988 onward, there was considerable outside pressure to “liberalize” Libya to allow more private sector involvement, and that’s when Gaddafi began to go off the rails. Corruption and greed entered the Libyan development equation, and Gaddafi’s socialist dream spiraled out of control. By 2004, Gaddafi was behaving like a paranoid schizophrenic, alternately conspiring against the U.S. while groveling into submission, even offering to have one of his sons marry Chelsea Clinton. With Obama’s quasi-legal invasion of Libya the oyster was cracked. And now the shucking begins.

In more U.S.-complaint regimes, such as the Saudi Arabian royal dictatorship, none of this is necessary. The shells were opened long ago and the extraction continues unabated.

So if large corporations are able to use friendly governments to pry open access to new resources, what are they doing at home? Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist and political activist, writes convincingly that democracy is dead in the United States. Elections, he says, are bought and paid for by corporate interests, and cites a century of legislation favouring corporations—and working against the general population—as evidence. Barack Obama, for example, will be spending over $1 billion dollars, mostly corporate money, to get reelected in 2012. It’s no accident that Obama’s closest financial advisers were the same people who engineered the financial collapse of 2008 and whose former companies benefited the most from the government bailouts while millions of Americans lost their homes.

Canada is rapidly following America down the corporate rabbit hole. Political discourse is being dumbed down into PR-managed sound bites. Emerging Harper government policies focus on the reduction public freedoms (such as surveillance of all Internet correspondence), increased spending on crime control and punishment, increased militarization, scaling back on foreign aid and environmental protection, and the reduction of taxes and regulations on large corporations, especially in the finance and energy sectors.

In other words, our government is working more for the globalist corporate agenda and less for ordinary Canadians. And the former Liberal government had been moving in the same direction.

I think we all have choices regarding the world around us. We can turn on the flatscreen and watch ‘Battle of the Blades’ or some other diversion, we can blindly follow our governments and argue that they know what’s best, or we can actually try to understand the problems so we can at least respond in an open-minded and intelligent way.

The battle for real democracy is breaking the corporate-state alliance, much as our forebears fought to break the church-state alliance. Capitalism is not democracy. Capitalism successfully functions in totalitarian states such as China, and we’re well on the way toward becoming a totalitarian capitalist, corporate-controlled state here.

With so many environmental issues facing us, we need to move away from the runaway “growth” economic model toward the creation of a “steady-state” economy that moves away from profits, conspicuous consumption and the race for personal wealth and status. We need to focus on social equality, sustainability and energy-transition technologies.

We’ve seen these same solutions discussed since the 1960s only to witness our society move, astonishingly and dramatically, in reverse.

Meanwhile, and ironically, Atlantic Canada will be benefitting from the 30-year, $25 billion warship-building contract for the federal government. Frankly, that money would be far better spent on developing alterative energy than preparing to send our kids off to war.


  1. Facebook comments:

    Donna Ross: Another fantastic column, and I absolutely agree with you that we need to understand the problems in order to respond in a more open-minded and intelligent way. My question for you, remains, as always, what exactly can I do? As an individual. I can limit my participation in the corporate system as much as possible, and share and try to help educate others... sometimes it just seems like a monumental task and I prefer specific actions that I can take.

    Gerald McEachern: Specific actions are difficult. How about we develop a list... One thing we could do is support and become more involved in local politics. Run for council or support someone we think is good. (Take control of your town and you take control of your immediate world.) Support locally-owned businesses—which is damned hard to do these days. Another is to actively communicate with our federal and provincial representatives, preferably in groups, and don't be afraid to vocally disagree with the rep.

    Gerald McEachern: As I was once famously told, "the world is run by those who show up." So the first thing we should do is show up in those places where the world is being run...

    Donna Ross: Good points, all. I think that is what my friend's young son was trying to say. He is going to make his voting decision based on supporting someone who he thinks is good. My opinion is that we all must take those individual steps, and in that way, our groups are stronger.

    Donna Ross: That's why I still think that voting is important. Too many people just don't speak up, which is why Harper is gleefully doing what he is doing today. They feel overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of it all. Like pushing a huge stone up a mountain... when the stone starts rolling down, it becomes too difficult to manage individually, and there comes a point when you just let it go. Many people have let it go, and don't choose to have the energy or passion to start pushing again.

    Gerald McEachern: The real job within the existing political process is selecting the best candidates. Too often the party machinery is choosing candidates for us, and we, the sheeple, blindly help out the cause by donating our time and money to get them elected—only have them to work to enhance the interests of the corporate elite. Wrong approach.

    Gerald McEachern: The real enemy is the party system. But more on that later...

    Donna Ross: I agree with all of that too!

  2. FB comments continued...

    Gerald McEachern: The simplest answer: the job for all citizens is to create THE POLITICAL WILL to build the healthiest societies possible—using every reasonable method available.

    Donna Ross: Too ambiguous. Not all of us have the same definitions of healthy or reasonable!

    Gerald McEachern: Fill in the blanks for yourself then. Healthiest socially is, statistically, the most equal, income-wise and status-wise. Healthiest physically isn't ambiguous. It is predicated on having a healthy environment, healthy food, and adequate health care. Reasonable is only ambiguous when our legal system (and policing) act on behalf of only the privileged few, which then requires the citizenry to undertake illegal means of power equalization. (Thus "legal" would be misleading.)

    Donna Ross: Oh, trust me, I know what my definitions are. Just have learned not to assume that everyone agrees with my definitions. I believe chiropractic is the best health care, others may not. Same with "healthy foods" etc. Activia yogurt is touted as healthy, yet all sorts of sugar products and unprounceable chemical ingredients are included.... Spent a bit of time just asking people what their definitions are, I think you'll be surprised that they don't match yours. :0) I don't think anything will change if we can't at least get to the same page on that.

    Gerald McEachern: Well, I'm willing to give up, then. As John Ralston Saul commented in the early ’90s, common sense flew out the window some time ago. I've lost patience with semantic games...

    Donna Ross: Not asking to play a game—just saying clarification, not assumption, goes a long way...

    Gerald McEachern: As I implied, use your common sense. Group dialogue will clear up the inconsistencies. Chemicals in food, not a good idea. I think I used the words "respond in an open-minded and intelligent way..." (I understand what you're driving at, but the details of "how" were not the subject of the piece. Common definitions are good, but our governmental process is abundantly full of highly detailed definitions and still manages to make dreadful policy choices...I was aiming at a bigger picture: the underlying framework.)

    Donna Ross: I guess I am better at the details than the bigger picture. :0)

    Art MacKay: We discussed some of this and we both have the utlimately pessimistic view for the future ... different but essentially the same chaos. And the question we ended with was "Should we give up?" Seems you (as I) ponder yet?

    Gerald McEachern: Yes, it's difficult to give up while we're still breathing! And thanks, Donna, I can see you're not giving up either!

    Art MacKay: Never been big on oysters....

    Gerald McEachern: There's a reason for that...

  3. Continued...

    Donna Ross: Heck no! I find these conversations rather invigorating! Have a lovely evening, lads.

    Planethink Thinktank: The world is the global banker's oyster. The middle class the pearl. Prized for extraction.

    Art MacKay: And then there's "usins" in the "under class" ... Beware of us for we emerge in chaos and some of the strongest hide here. Remember how well we did in the" Dark Ages". Intellect is not a defense in the end. And as we grow beyond 7 billion ..... ?

    Donna Ross: Great spirits often endure violent opposition from mediocre minds.

    Art MacKay: And sometimes the obverse of that coin ... :-)

    Gerald McEachern: I love that quote.

    Gerald McEachern: And Art, that makes my head spin, but also good. Now trying to imagine examples...

  4. Over the weekend, while I was struggling with my frustration that Occupy DC wasn't booming adequately to suit my boomer fantasies, a liberal friend recommended Chris Hedges' The World As It Is. I snatched moments with the book--enough to get through the first few chapters--and squirmed over Hedges' disdain for Obama. And yet...and's good for my neurons to have something to struggle against. They get flabby otherwise.

    I cannot argue with the fact that this upcoming election has, so far, proved to be every bit as banal and unlovely as reality television. There's not even pretense of dignity, just bombast and a chilling lack of embarrassment over preening that ought to shame any reasonable person.

    I'm listening.

  5. Watching and listening, Nance.

    What if, as Chomsky, Hedges and other bright thinkers suggest, elections are now irrelevant? What if all the "winners" are bought before the first vote is counted? What if it makes no difference whether we elect a Bush or Obama?

    To whose agenda are they adhering? To whose advantage is it that we've become so 'invested' in the Middle East?

    When the president of the United States can authorize the assassination of a US citizen without due legal process, the game is over. Terrorism becomes the excuse for executive terrorism: leaders (and hidden leaders) against their own people. This is not democracy we're witnessing. This is tyranny. Tyranny of the few against the many, and it's happening while we play the out the sham of partisan, left–right politics.

    I think this is becoming clearer to more people since the OWS movement began. To be sure, much of the 'movement' is happening online rather than on the streets. And for that reason I don't think it's going to go away.


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