Politics for the Status Quo





http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/the-self-performed-lobotomy-of-the-left/article18929634/

 This is an interesting article about the political left in the Western World. I will comment on the article briefly before expanding on it at a general level.

These few quotes pretty much sum up the article.

The developed world is still barely recovering from a crisis that exposed the excesses of banker-directed economies and the perverse incentives of a capitalist system prone to cronyism and corruption. The failure of trickle-down economics has been borne out by rising inequality.
In Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Canada, among others, the main parties on the left are not only out of ideas – they’re devoid of personality. They stand for nothing but the bland promise of the status quo.
By in large most people grasp this in terms of our political climate. The main reason given is that of realism. Parties need to be electable, so they can't do/promise anything too different from the norm. As a result and as the author points out, the NDP platform really doesn't differ much for the Liberal platform.

While the Conservative Platform does differ slight, in my view, it is basically shuffling the same chairs around the same table in the same house.

The Political Norm

So what is the political norm that exists? It is vast and there's no way I could touch every single topic on every issue, but I'll try and note a few points.

  • The economy must always grow
  • Public services, like healthcare/education must remain public
  • There must always be an upper/middle/working class
  • Free-trade is a given
  • We must compete globally for private sector jobs
  • The middle class must be supported
  • Education creates jobs
  • Deficits and Debt reduction are not as important as maintaining growth
  • The private sector is efficient and should provide products/services
  • The private sector must create jobs
  • Inflation must always occur
  • Deflation should never occur
  • The stock market must always go up
  • ...
Now, the above is the political norm. You really don't see mainstream politicians going against any of that regardless of party. 

Irony of Progressivsm

What is very interesting is the idea of progressivism.as a political ideology.
If I were to imagine a statement of progressivism, it would be as follows:
Modern society is complex and needs a powerful government to manage and shape it
It sounds very convincing and perhaps it is valid. Surely, we don't live independtly on farms anymore. The world is much more complex with all kinds of interconnections and industries and corporations...
We should also note that while progressivism is now associated with the 'left', it was a big part of the 'right' for most of its history and I would argue the progressive mindset lies on both left and right parties.

In any case, what I want to focus on here is the argument of progressives of the need for massive government power. Yet, the irony that most progressives haven't used that power to do anything. They appear almost trapped by the complexity of society they themselves they have created. They have created these massive institutions and interconnected systems. Almost everything the progressives are about is in terms of creating institutions to deal with problems. Everything for the financial and legal system to free trade to mega corporations. and public sector unions. They appear powerless against free-trade, public sector, legal system, and bureaucracy that they themselves have empowered.

I'll give you a classic example. In Ontario, we are led by the progressive Liberal governments. They are heavy progressives who want to do a whole lot. Yet, when the province struggled with spending and deficits, they wanted to tame it by freezing public sector wages. Not cutting them, just freezing. This progressive government simply couldn't do it. Things went to arbitration. In other cases, they caved to union pressure.
http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2011/05/23/public_sector_wages_mcguinty_hands_ammo_to_rivals.html
http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2013/01/10/imposing_contracts_on_ontario_teachers_is_bad_policy_and_bad_politics.html

So, imagine this. Progressive governments want to be and have empowered themselves to deal with this complex world. They want the power to shape people, breed a new kind of person, direct business and technology, regulate every industry. Truly grand goals.
Yet, they can't control the wages of their employees? Something a local pizza store owner could probably do?

Job Creation

 Another example, I heard recently on TVO's The Agenda.
http://tvo.org/video/199943/jobs-reality-check : 23:45
Essentially, it is a show about job creation in Ontario, which is struggling for jobs.
At one point, the following exchange takes place (paraphrased).
Steve Pakin (host): There are about one million people employed by the government. Why can't the government just create jobs for people. Mike (a University Professor), your job is paid for by the government. Why not for the rest of it
Mike (Guest): The government can't create jobs. That must be done by the private sector. The government is not creating jobs by hiring a million childhood educator.
That was it. An hour long political pundit show, and those few seconds were all that was given to the idea that government should create jobs for the people. That is it. Everything else from the 'political norm' was taken. And the rest of the show caught debating within the narrow confines of the political norm.

I think this puts an end to the idea that it is merely political parties that try to tailor their campagin to be 'normal' so they are electable. Even on this pundit show full of academics, they dare not venture outside the political norm.


The irony is a little much. I'm reminded of a saying from Babylon 5:
When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.(Londo Mollari)
It reminds me a lot of progressives. When the government didn't have much power, they thought of all the choices they could make if only government had the power and how much better they could shape the world.  Now that they have the power, they almost seem like they have no choices.

Not Just the Left

It is not just the left that has embraced the political norm. The right has also embraced the political norm. They refuse to entertain the ideas of the right that might be palatable to their ideology.

The most prominant amoung these in the idea of the free market and liberty. What of the idea that deflation needs to occur, so the cost of living goes down, and we are all better off? Nah, that's just for tea party nut jobs. Real people on the right continue to talk about the political norm.

Negative Interest Rates

Interestingly, today it was just announced that the ECB is going to use negative interest rates.
http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/european-central-bank-adopts-negative-interest-rates-1.2665814

What this means, is that banks who park some of their assets at the central bank will have to PAY the bank to hold that money. Normally, the central bank pays them interest as you would if you held your savings in a savings account at a bank. It should also be noted that European banks are REQUIRED to park some of the assets at the ECB.

Why would they do this? Well because they want to keep the status quo, like above. Banks must always make money. People and businesses must continuously take out loans from banks. The economy must always grow. Inflation must always occur. Deflation should never occur...

These are the extraordinary lengths politicians and central banks are willing to go to maintain the status quo and why we don't have any real political politics. All political policies are around... how can we keep the status quo going.

The Status Quo and Academia

 I think a big part of the lack of real politics is the reliance on experts and academia. Having been through university in a technical subject, it can be observed that most experts like to think in terms of equations. There's nothing wrong with equations. If you're dealing with gravity and you need to know the force needed to overcome gravity, there is a clear equation for that: F=ma. You can reduce the force needed by reducing the mass for example.

Equations are nice to work with as you can aim to stablize them.
If the masses goes up, you know the force must also up.

The issue comes in human made systems, like the economy. Here, the equations and goals are up for definition. How to calculate inflation/deflation. Is inflation good? Is deflation good? These are all really arbitrary for them to define and for real policies to create. Yet, you will notice the experts and academics referring to it just like the force of gravity equation above.

They will say, it is obvious that when demand goes down, the government must increase demand.
When lending goes down, you need stimulus or lower interest rates...
They aim to balance the equation. That is their tunnel vision of the 'obvious' action that if you go against you are some kind of uneducated oaf.

Yet, they neccessarily force themselves into equation that they themselves define.


Final Comments

It is all just rather interesting to see the lack of political thought today. Not just from an electable political party position, but from a serious academic position. The degree of opinion operates within a very narrow band, that might not be suited for changing conditions.

Everyone likes car analogies, so I will give on.
It is as if, all political ideologies agree that the only car is a 4 door sedan. Any other kind of car is just not practical. Sure, you have lots of choice. Some are faster. Some are more comfortable. Some are cheaper. Some are more luxury. You could get yourself a Honda Civic, a Toyota Corollo, a Subaru Impreza, a Lexus GS 350...

And that all works well as long as you are driving along a well paved road.

Yet, what if the conditions change? What if the world is taking you onto a gravel road? What if you need to tow something? What if you need to cross a forest? What if there's a lot of snow? What if you need to cross a river or an lake?

You can have the choice of 1000 4 door sedans; none of them are going to get you through. You need to start talking about trucks, off road vehicles, skidoos, boats...



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