Friday, July 15, 2005

Voter alienation and consumer sovereignty

Andrew Potter weighs in with an interesting perspective on voter alienation in a recent article in the Toronto Star.

Consider last summer's federal election. It was the most competitive in 15 years, but the substantial issues were overshadowed by the standard litany of grievances from the "alienated voter" corner of the room. This was the refrain: "there is no real difference between the political parties," "none of the parties speaks to me/reaches out to me/represents my views," "politicians always change their minds/never do what they say they will do," "my vote doesn't really matter anyway."

Yet one could argue that the disaffection of these supposedly "alienated" voters is a product of their having internalized the ideology of consumer sovereignty. They have confused the norms and expectations that govern the political arena with those that govern the marketplace. Fundamentally, what they dislike about politics is that it isn't more like shopping. When you go to the mall, obsequious salespeople will trip over themselves to find a product that is perfectly suited to your own particular needs and desires. We have become so accustomed to this sort of highly individualized service that some people, particularly the young, are tempted to wonder why their politicians can't be more like their favourite brands.

The problem is that in a democratic society, we seek to govern ourselves by consensus and agreement. This means political parties are necessarily charged with the task of creating platforms that reconcile, in some way, the opinions of millions of individual citizens. In a pluralistic and multicultural country, it is hardly surprising to find that there is very little overlap in these views. Thus, what political parties wind up presenting, in the way of a platform, cannot possibly be tailored to fit each individual's personal predilections. That's simply not how democratic politics works.

Potter is co-author of The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed. The book just came out in paperback and is one of the first on my cottage reading list.

You can catch more of Potter's insights at the This Magazine Blog, where he is a regular contributor. Potter provides some welcome balance to the dominant leftish perspective of the other contributors to the blog.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Not afraid

I'm not sure what to make of a new web site called We’re not afraid! Created only five days ago in the wake of the London bombings, it seems to have struck a chord. People from all over the world are submitting pictures to the site with some sort of tag line asserting they are not afraid.

In typical fashion, though, the New York Times is dismissive of the whole exercise (registration required).

The site displays a range of defiant postures. Some people hold up their middle fingers, presumably for the terrorists to see. Some people posted pictures of American soldiers, presumably for Londoners and Americans to see.

But more and more, there's a brutish flaunting of wealth and leisure. Yesterday there were lots of pictures posted of smiling families at the beach and of people showing off their cars and vans. A picture from Italy shows a white sports car and comes with the caption: "Afraid? Why should we be afraid?"

A few days ago, We're Not Afraid might have been a comfort. Today, there's a hint of "What, me worry?" from Mad magazine days, but without the humor or the sarcasm. We're Not Afraid, set up to show solidarity with London, seems to be turning into a place where the haves of the world can show that they're not afraid of the have-nots.

But in face of such amorphous threats, what can we really do? Are we to stop living and cower in our basements? Are we to apologize for who we are?

And what's this about "have-nots?" We have been through this before. The majority of the 9-11 bombers were upper-middle class Saudis. Of course that inconvenient fact does not stop the New York Times from attempting to transform the London terrorist bombings into a class war.

While perhaps not the "root cause" behind the evident Islamist hatred of the West, we should consider whether such self-flagellation is a contributing factor. In blaming ourselves, we are in effect absolving the perpetrators of these inhuman acts of any responsibility.

Somehow, I do not think blaming ourselves will persuade the terrorists to stop. So maybe these people have it right. Defiance is a better strategy. If we show our fear, the terrorists have won.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Canada’s free-market traditions

In today’s National Post, Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president of the Montreal Economic Institute, reviews Canadian economic history and challenges the view "that interventionist government, high taxes, protectionist policies and socialized medicine constitute the very fabric of our national identity."

Two years ago, Americans celebrated the bicentenary of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803 to explore the Northwest. This expedition was funded by the U.S. Congress, at the request of president Thomas Jefferson. Few people know that whereas the U.S. government subsidized its westbound explorers, the Canadian West was explored by a private expedition paid for by private interests. Indeed, in Canada, during the 1770s, the North West Company and fur traders such as Alexander Mackenzie were moving their way to the Canadian West in search of profit, and without government money.

I think there is great symbolism to be found in that story. It contradicts the notion that U.S. history is all about private initiatives, and that Canada's history is nothing but a long succession of heavy government interventionism. This is simply not true. Actually, for many years, in many areas, it was the other way around. More and more distinguished scholars are showing us that it is a fabrication of our nationalist elites (and I mean both Canadian and Quebec nationalists) that you cannot be a "real Canadian" or a "real Quebecer" if you are opposed to statism and big government.

Our dependence on the all-encompassing, interventionist state is a relatively recent phenomenon. Despite what some would have us believe, the state is not what defines us as Canadians. Much of what we have accomplished as a nation has been through private initiative. Our free-market traditions have served us well in the past. They can provide guidance to the present and future as well.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

CPC is “pro-market” not “pro-business”

In a recent post, ALW looks at the common assumption that Conservative Party policies “favour corporations at the expense of the little guy.” He notes that their success at soliciting electoral contributions from individual Canadians belies that view.

The CPC is a “pro-market” party. That is not the same as a “pro-business” party. Unfortunately, most Canadians do not seem to be able to make this distinction.

The Liberal Party is a corporatist party, that is, pro-large business. Their interests and those of many large corporations are intertwined. The implicit bargain has always been that government regulations and policies will be shaped to benefit their corporate benefactors.

One merely has to look at the list of corporate donors to Paul Martin’s leadership campaign and to the Liberal Party to see who the primary benefactors of Liberal policy largesse are. To be sure, the Bombardiers, the Schwarzes, the McCains, the Stronachs, the Aspers, the Desmaraises and the Irvings, among others, operate in largely competitive, often global, markets. But their financial success is due in no small part to governments tilting policy in their favour. Not surprisingly, they are all major donors to the Liberals. Curiously, the CPC has received little or nothing from most of these corporate titans.

The many subsidies and other political favours that do come their way are at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer and, ultimately, our standard of living. When political influence rather than market savvy becomes a key determinant of success, it is not surprising that Canada’s productivity performance has significantly lagged that of other developed countries. This is the inevitable outcome of Liberal corporatism when government, not the market, picks the “winners” in this country.

A key electoral challenge for the CPC in the months ahead is to convincingly address the false perception that they are somehow beholden to corporate interests. Canadians need to see how a pro-market orientation, in place of the current Liberal corporatist approach, would benefit them and their country. Until they do, we are stuck with Liberals.

Monday, July 04, 2005

If the shoe were on the other foot

This editorial in the Montreal Gazette today looks at the effect of prejudice against anglophones in Quebec on their potential electability.

The bad news for the province's ambitious anglophones is that being an anglo is apparently a far greater handicap to becoming premier of Quebec than is being homosexual, black or female. The good news is that most Quebecers do say they would be comfortable with an anglo premier, even francophones in sufficient majority to carry a referendum.

A survey for La Presse showed that 35 per cent of Quebecers say they would not want an anglophone as premier. This is significantly higher than the nine per cent opposed to a black premier, the mere four per cent against a woman premier, or the 11 per cent who would object to a gay premier.

Could you imagine the uproar if a similar poll in the “Rest of Canada” revealed that 35% of English-speaking Canadians would not vote for a francophone Prime Minister?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Moving Day

No, not me, but hundreds of thousands of Quebecers are moving today. In a triumph of bureaucratic “efficiency” over practicality, virtually all residential leases in Quebec expire on June 30th. That means for many Quebecers, Canada Day is a day for moving or helping friends move.

Essentially, moving day is a big peak-load problem that just happens to take place on Canada’s national holiday. In any event, most Quebecers are probably partied out after celebrating their own “national holiday” last week. If I was the cynical type, I’d say it was planned that way.

Movers in the province have been booked for months. While there are stories of opportunism and exploitation, my view is they are probably not charging enough. After all, you expect to pay more for roses on Valentine’s Day.

Montreal streets are now bustling with activity. Traffic has slowed to a crawl as double-parked moving vans block the streets. Some people are even rolling their furniture down the sidewalk as they do the apartment shuffle. They either waited too long before trying to book a moving van or could not afford the elevated rates.

To my fellow Quebecers, I hope your move goes smoothly. To my fellow Canadians, Happy Dominion Day!