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Message-ID: <199705262011.NAA17695@fraser>
Date: Mon, 26 May 1997 13:11:09 -0700
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
Subject: Theobald on the Canadian election

Date: Thu, 22 May 1997
From: hendrik@uvic.ca (Hendrik)
Subject: "Global Leaders have no clothes"

Global Leaders have no clothes

By Robert Theobald, 22 May 1997

Last year (1996) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had invited Robert Theobald, New Orleans based U.S. economist, to deliver the "Fall Massey Lectures", part of the "Ideas" programming series. However, shortly before the lectures were scheduled to begin, the CBC cancelled his appointment, purportedly because of disapproval over his innovative approach to presenting ideas (which can best be described as cooperative and provocative).

In the wake of the ensuing publicity a successful program of lectures and workshops in Canada was organised which saw him travel in Canada in the last six months. He has just published "Reworking Success" (New Society Publishers), and today we received a column on the Canadian election which he prefaces as follows:

I have been encouraged to write a column on the Canadian election, in the context of the failure of all recent elections to avoid the real issues. I hope it will be relevant to those in other countries as well.

This column can be forwarded to listserves, etc., if it is felt to be useful. It can also be published without my permission, but I would be interested in knowing what uses anybody finds for it.


Imagine a father arriving home to see his house on fire. He runs into the burning shell to rescue those he holds most dear... and emerges carrying his safe full of money and securities. After making sure that the money is secure he runs back towards the house to save his children... but it is too late. His family is consumed in the flames.

Like the father, our politicians continue to ignore the increasingly visible dangers. They act as though economic forces are the only ones of importance, that maximum economic growth will solve all problems, that international competitiveness is the primary relevant determinant of action. They ignore the accumulating evidence that the gaps between the rich and the poor are widening both within countries and between them and that current directions will worsen developing dynamics rather than reverse them.

The economic profession, in which I was trained, has disgraced itself by failing to surface these realities. Instead, economists continue to reinforce the patterns that jeopardize the lives of our children and grandchildren. They continue to base their entire house-of-cards on an already disproved belief that the biosphere has an infinite capacity to provide us with raw materials and absorb our garbage.

Both politicians and economists continue to pretend that the approaches we have used in the twentieth century will work in the twenty-first. When challenged, they say that there are no choices. It is like saying that the father had no choice: that he was forced to save his money before his children. The results he experienced reflected his choice, just as the trends we are experiencing globally reflect ours.

Going into the Canadian election, there was widespread recognition that all of the parties, taken together, excited the enthusiasm of less than a quarter of the electorate. One might have hoped that this would have led one major party to decide that it was time to level with people and to treat them as adults rather than to disguise what is really going on in the world.

It is time to face the fact that NAFTA and the World Trade Organization have already reduced the rights of communities and nations. Now a Multilateral Agreement on Investment is being negotiated, essentially in secret, to eliminate even more local, and national, decision-making. Despite the extraordinary implications of the proposed agreement, no major party seems aware of the importance of deciding where Canada should stand.

In one sense, this is not surprising. A real discussion on what is important to Canadians would break through the superficialities of the debate and show that not only does the Emperor has no clothes on but that he's making obscene gesture!

Long-run ecological issues are continuing to worsen as the citizens of developed countries refuse to face the consequences of their actions or their responsibilities to the rest of the world. The rich countries were put on notice at the Rio Environmental Conference that they had to take the first steps if a global debate on population and ecological balance was to develop. In the five years since Rio, we have not even kept the commitments made at that time.

The consequences of delays are cumulative and they have already started to damage our interests. These dangers are not only systemic and long-run. They affect our individual, immediate lives. For example, skin cancers have risen dramatically because of declines in the ozone layer. Weather- related disasters, like the floods in Manitoba, are on the increase and these events have been credibly related to global warming.

More and more people see national and provincial government as irrelevant and irresponsible. This is deeply unfortunate because my travels across Canada after the cancellation of the 1996 CBC Massey Lectures showed that there is a large, concerned and thoughtful group of people that wants new directions and positive solutions. This is not only my opinion. Polling data from MacLeans Magazine and non-profit groups show that Canadians have not given up on their historic commitments to a civil society and social justice. They have decided, correctly, that the old means of attaining them do not work but they are nevertheless willing to look in new directions.

Elections should be times when people have the opportunity to talk about their dreams and visions, to surface their concerns, to return a Government which will serve the needs of its people. Is it too late, in the waning days of the campaign, to ask for passion instead of sound-bites? Can we look beyond our greed and short-sightedness and demand that politicians address the critical issues before it is too late?

Our house is burning. When we emerge, will we be carrying a safe full of money - or the real treasure in our lives; our children?