Dear Prime Minister (or Mr. Premier)
Forget about trying to retrain everyone for new jobs in the information economy, or whatever they’re calling it these days. The information age means the end of mass wage labour (see below for background). The new economy will never replace all the blue and white collar jobs eliminated by information technology because the whole point of information technology is to reduce human labour. And forget about political theatre like workfare. Whenever it’s been tried, it’s failed. Your aim is to increase the purchasing power of unemployed or under-employed Canadians. No other force, except government, is capable of distributing more broadly the gains that technology makes possible. The failure of government to do this will result in a society of haves and have-nots, a direction in which we are swiftly moving.
If an unstable society consisting of the wealthy few and the impoverished many is to be avoided, there are only two realistic courses of action that are open to you: provide the citizen with a basic income—preferably every citizen, even the richest Canadian—or massively increase social spending. Direct assistance or indirect assistance, take your choice. Either way you’re going to have to take from the rich and give to the not-so-rich. However, providing income to the unemployed and under-employed is an excellent way to stimulate demand and keep the economy from running flat. You could, for example, give income vouchers for volunteer work and any kind of non-profit work that creates social capital. You might also consider increasing government revenue by taxing the profits of currency speculators. Better still, why not make our tax system progressive in practice as well as in theory by closing the 100 odd tax loop holes provided for the benefit of wealthy Canadians? Almost every tax inquiry over the past 35 years has demonstrated that the tax system rewards the well-to-do and penalizes the middle and lower-income classes. But if tax reform seems too daunting to begin with, at least tax the wealthy indirectly by allowing moderate inflation. In 1975 U.S. economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow outlined in detail how the costs of recession were much greater than the costs of inflation. By raising interest rates to control inflation, instead of statutory (i.e. government mandated) bank reserves, The Bank of Canada reinforces inequality in two ways: high interest rates disproportionately reward the rich and the resulting unemployment disproportionately punishes the poor. Compared with the interest rate, which is a blunt instrument that impacts everything in the economy that moves, a variable reserve requirement would function like a surgical tool. Too bad Brian Mulroney quietly eliminated mandatory reserves as part of a furtive bailout of Canadian banks in 1991. That means you will have to reinstate them.
But if you really wanted to inaugurate an era of economic justice, then you must take back the control of credit from the chartered banks, thereby de-privatising the money supply and stopping the debt engine. A government can just as easily lend interest-free money into existence by borrowing from its own bank as borrow interest-bearing money into existence by going cap in hand to privately owned companies known as chartered banks—which at present it mainly does. (Note that whatever the interest rate, government borrowing from the Bank of Canada is always effectively interest-free because the government, as sole shareholder, pays back the interest to itself as a dividend.) It’s about time that democratic countries put this sly form of economic exploitation behind them.
As of the year 2000, the richest one percent of the population owned 25 percent (42 percent in the US) of the national wealth. Every instinct of decency and common sense should tell us that this is shameful. It’s also a cancer in our democracy. The first responsibility of a democratically elected government is to resist concentrated economic power. Only by doing this can a functioning democracy be preserved, and the common good prevail over the economic interests of a few people. Good luck!
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper
Rt. Hon. Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
Queen’s Park Legislature
A nasty leak, that! I’m glad it’s not in my end of the boat!
At the beginning of the 20th century almost 40 percent of people in Canada and the United States worked on the land. In 1850 it was about 60 percent. Today about 3 percent do, and thanks to technology they can produce all the food we need as well as vast quantities for export. In fact, governments have to pay farmers not to produce because their productive capacity is so great.
What has happened in agriculture in terms of replacing men by machines will shortly happen in manufacturing and the service industries. It’s already happening. Have you ever seen pictures of automobile assembly lines where the workers are not humans but robots? Politicians talk hopefully of retraining the work force as “knowledge workers.” They’re dreamers. Having created the problem of unemployment, advanced technology is hardly likely to solve it. Even if the economy could create enough jobs in the information sector—which it most certainly can’t since the whole thrust of the information revolution is towards highly skilled, highly paid, small, elite work forces using increasingly sophisticated machines—many people are not intellectually or temperamentally suited to be knowledge workers. So where does that leave the forty, sixty, perhaps eighty percent of us who are not worth exploiting even for the minimum wage? (Don’t suppose these figures are an exaggeration. One quarter of the population may indeed be able to produce all of our goods and services just as 3 percent produces all of our food. One chilling trend-report suggests that by the year 2020 we will see the elimination of the blue collar factory worker from the world.)
There’s no use in complaining about the moral and spiritual blindness of our leaders. John Kennedy may have mused about politics being a noble profession, but since when have moral rectitude and spiritual vision been primary qualifications for a career in politics? The simple fact is that most politicians have to lie to a greater or lesser degree in order to get elected, and thus a lack of truthfulness sets the tone of political life. However, politicians respond very well to pressure: pressure from big business, big money, special interests, and—hooray!—public opinion. And public opinion includes you, your family, your friends, and anyone you can bring round to an informed point of view.
Very often, in human affairs, the sensible course of action is only chosen after all other alternatives have been exhausted. So it may be here. As we pass from the industrial age, the age of mass labour, to the information age, the age of elite labour (see notes on The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin), global economic collapse, political turmoil, and massive social unrest are very real possibilities. However, those who can conquer inertia and indifference can do their part to help ease this dangerous passage. One way would be to sign and date the following letter (or write your own) and mail it to both Mr. Harper (no postage) and the premier of your province. You may even want to run off some copies and try to convince two friends to do likewise—much like a pyramid scheme. If everyone who sent this letter convinced two other people to each send a letter and convince two friends in their turn, the number of letters bombarding our elected leaders would reach 33 million after just 24 cycles!
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