By Rick Salutin
LIBERALISM IN ALL ITS FORMS, INCLUDING LEFT LIBERALISM, SEEMS EXHAUSTED. It ceded to neo-liberalism long ago: inequality, free market worship, anti-government, etc.
What else explains the right’s ability to keep trotting out empty ideas and phrases—and win elections!
Who killed liberalism? The Clintons, Blair, Martin and Chrétien, above all Obama. They talked liberalism and delivered neo-liberalism. Raise hopes, then dash them. Then, when your term’s over, having not done all the things you promised, take the money, run, and sunbathe on David Geffen’s yacht in Tahiti.
[Ontario Premier] Kathleen Wynne fits awkwardly. She sounded sincere. She said she’d be the social justice premier. She’s different, I’d say, in one, commendable sense. She came through well on many fronts: pensions, tuition, minimum wage, equal pay, pharmacare.
She blew it severely on just one: she sold Hydro (Hydro One actually, but everyone says Hydro). She stumbled blatantly only there. Yet it leaves a bitter taste people seem unable to shake. How does this compute?
Millennials talk freely about socialism
On a cold night in Montreal recently (bear with me) I shared an Uber back from dinner with a millennial I know. He had an account. I don’t. I have a generational reluctance because Uber undermines hard-won union rights. But I can recognize a great technology. (They come in minutes, no money changes hands.) I mentioned my qualms about Uber to the millennial. “That’s why I think it should be nationalized,” he said. “Along with Airbnb, Spotify and Netflix.”
His is a generation so disillusioned with the garbage rhetoric of politicians left and right that they talk freely about socialism. (You must go that far back to escape the stains of liberalism — as Sanders and Corbyn have.)
They know they’ll never live at the level of their parents. Their dream isn’t homeowning. At most, they hope to rent reasonably. They don’t expect to ever have much private property so they don’t fetishize it. They’re open to public ownership. Neo-liberalism failed them. And they distrust Wynne too. Why? She sold Hydro.
The sell-off of public goods is the quintessence of neo-liberalism.
Where did the computer and internet come from? Mostly from U.S. military research, funded by taxes. All key elements of the iPhone, Mariana Mazzucato has shown, came from that research. So why not nationalize payoffs like Uber, instead of exploiting those whose taxes made it all possible? Nationalizing Uber isn’t theft, it’s rectifying theft. It’s taking back for the people, what came from them.
Nationalizing Uber isn’t theft, it’s rectifying theft. It’s taking back for the people, what came from them.
Hydro stands in the same relation. Water is the soul of all life. (Hydro means water.) It’s our bloodstream. It’s a social necessity. Ontario Hydro was a public undertaking funded by the public that returned benefits to all. You can’t sell it, you can only swipe it and hand it over, as Wynne did.
The buyers won’t do anything to improve it; they’ll just squeeze it to extract profits. Classical economists of the 1700s and 1800s would’ve called them rentseekers — the ugliest players in capitalism. Worse, she did this in the name of acquiring money for another public good: transit. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s a scam.
I think people sense a deep betrayal of principle in Wynne’s Hydro sell-off. Something’s very wrong and if Wynne was capable of it then she’s not to be trusted either, no matter what else seems to prove her worth. She belongs to them, not us. To me the great mystery of this fascinating political season in Ontario is the loathing of Wynne. This is my attempt to understand it.
I think it’s a harsh judgment on her, too harsh. But we live in an age of hideous betrayals and emotions far beneath the rational level are churning.