Commentary | Good government in ten steps

In the past year, I’ve tried to keep the character of the column I’ve written for the illustrious Daily fairly constant. After having reviewed my year’s work, I think there are a few recurring messages, often derived via criticizing governments and their policies. Here, I’m going to summarize what I think our governments should do in response to these criticisms.

 

Industry flourishes when there are competent people to staff it, infrastructure to support it, and material resources to sustain it. If government is not responsible for ensuring those things are provided and well managed, then it’s left to industry. As individual industries are left to tailor their resource bases to their own particular needs, when an industry fails, which often happens, and no other industry has been cooperating in supporting its resource base, that base dies too. It’s when it is too late that the role of government becomes very clear, even more so when the maintenance of a resource actually conflicts with industrial interests. We’re talking here about human resources as well as material and infrastructure.

 

People often cite the idea that, if left to their own devices, free market industrial players will ensure maintenance of the elements required for their own existence. Short-term mistakes in tending to the health of those elements are supposed to be “self-correcting” when the financial consequences of not doing so kick in. Even if that is true, in the intervening time, those elements can wind up in pretty bad shape. Once again, the role of government comes into focus. However, by separating corporate governance and financing from the physical activities of corporations (e.g. in the mining industry), globalization has proved time and again that self-correction doesn’t often happen – plundering and destruction does. As long as companies extract significant wealth, they don’t care what it destroys even if they risk destroying themselves.

 

In order to change things, people need to be informed. But, 80 per cent of people aren’t capable of reading a moderately complicated text that explores an issue’s complexities. Moreover, even if people could and were willing to take action, there are fewer and fewer informative texts around. Take the Montreal Gazette’s recent article on the city’s March 12 rally. It reported that students protested tuition hikes – yawn. But the protest was about more than tuition; it also decried several expected initiatives that would gut Quebec’s social systems. Over 50,000 people participated in the rally, only about 5,000 of which were students, and was attended by organizations representing over 1.25 million Quebeckers. That’s not what the Gazette led us to believe.

 

We, the people, might stop our companies and our governments from misbehaving both at home and abroad, and might require that something be done about it when they do, if we were properly informed. But that requires a few things: people that can read, meaningful information to read, and a desire to be informed and act on that information. None of these ingredients seem to be around in sufficient quantity.

1. Tightly regulate (and decrease) the amount of advertising and marketing we are exposed to in order to free up the time and space to actually contemplate the real world, instead of creating false realities and expectations.

2. Tax capital accumulation, so wealth can’t be hoarded and sequestered from the society that generated it.

3. Cap inheritance so that birth doesn’t overly influence socio-economic status, and so that we are forced to care for each other instead of just our own kin.

4. Makes all levels of education free so that all individuals have the opportunity to develop the capacity to both contextualize their existence and plan their contributions and withdrawals from the society in which they live.

5. Enforce the same standards of operation for companies abroad as at home. Make them clearly and responsibly serve the societies in which they operate. Don’t allow them to exploit resources.

6. Implement heavily progressive personal and corporate income taxes instead of regressive consumption taxes.

7. Consider raising a child the most important full-time job in a society and compensate for that job (and “opportunity cost” if you must call it that) accordingly.

8. Provide free health care and prescription drugs, and regulate the hell out of the industries that spuriously drive up costs (e.g. biotech and big pharma).

9. Require a referendum in order to engage in a military offensive, and require renewal of the mandate by the same means at regular intervals.

10. Recognize that health, safety, education, child care, dignity, access to government, access to meaningful employment, environmental protection, and a social safety net are the top priorities of a civilized society.


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