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Growth is OK if it is shared?

Premier Lorne Calvert, New Democratic Party (NDP) Premier of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, in calling an election for November 7, declared that growth was a good thing, so long as it was "shared".

This fascinating concept is meant to stake out a distinctive position for social democrats on the ideological spectrum.

Whereas the Saskatchewan Party and the Liberals---the "right"---follow the old formula that growth of any kind is to be promoted because of an alleged "trickle-down"effect whereby even the poorest citizens feel its benefits, the New Democrats are so much more enlightened. While their opponents are campaigning from a 1925 policy book, the NDP is way ahead of them waving their 1961 ideas.

Some choice. 1925 or 1961, as environmental Armageddon looms on the horizon.

Calvert's thesis evokes interesting logic. His manifesto would read:

It's OK to rob a bank so long as the proceeds of the robbery are shared among the fashionably oppressed constituency of the NDP. The 'working people' (Businessmen don't work). First Nations. The handicapped. Seniors. Single Moms. Transexual Dwarfs, whatever.

It's OK to clear-cut old growth forests if timber revenues are equitably shared.
It's OK to develop farmland if the sale of homes in new subdivisions reaps sales tax revenues for the provincial treasury and they are equitably shared.
It's OK to generate radioactive waste if the nuclear plant provides power for low-income people.
It's OK to wipe out an endangered species if the housing built on its habitat provides affordable options for low-income people.

Growth is OK so long as it is shared.

And if you still feel uneasy about it, go to the NDP website for Saskatchewan or Manitoba , and you will find that growth becomes "sustainable". Sustainable growth? Virgin birth!

Whether these snake oil salesmen represent the left or the right, or the environmental movement, they can't make growth palatable to discerning taste by sugar-coating it with these oxymoronic neologisms that attempt to cloak the fact that economic expansion in a finite environment cannot be sustained. Calling it "shared", "sustainable", "managed" or "smart" will not rescue it from this ironclad law.

Get real Calvert.

Tim Murray,
Quadra Island, BC
Canada V0P 1N0


Along the same line, it is evident that growth can be very simply presented to people as a loss not a gain.

Firstly it must be presented and accepted that key resources are finite. Basic reality, but it will not be a consciously considered factor by many and there will be those who will argue the infinite capacity of human innovation. The latter group need to be made to account for the vital role energy plays in that innovation, that energy stocks are dwindling, and that comparatively capacitous energy alternatives are all blue sky notions and no better than a religious hope. So these people need to confirm whether the argument is to be based upon science or religion. If the concepts are kept incisive and succinct, the worst of these people can be made to marginalise themselves.

From there the issue is simple arithmetic.

In a realm of finite resources:

1) Population growth must decrease each individual's entitlement to the resource base. Of course the effect of this subdivision is masked to a 1st world consumer by the remoteness of the impact of the actual loss as it is being created and suffered in the expanding 3rd world. Nonetheless, this deficit must be growing, and must be growing toward the first world.

2) Per capita consumption growth without population growth must reduce the resource entitlements of future generations.

1) & 2) together provide a rapid increase in the distribution and effect of both categories of loss.

So equitably sharing the dividends of growth must mean that we all evenly share in the diminishment of our resource base. Sounds exciting.

Constituents need to be informed of the quarterly growth figures for water restrictions, water contamination, recreation space conflict, traffic congestion, fish shortage, hospital waiting lists, etc., etc.

Growth excites us. We are entitled to be stimulated by these figures that we do all get to share, and not just those that many only get to spectate upon, like average salary, median house price, per capita GDP, etc.

Hmm. And our national and personal debts have grown, and our consumption has grown, and the rate at which we deplete oil has grown, and emissions have grown and the total numbers of the hungry have grown, and land prices have grown and homelessness has grown and ... and...

Gee, never thought of it like that before

This is great - sounds like the Queensland Labor Party!!

GREAT NEWS! After 16 years in office the Saskatchewan NDP went down to defeat in the November 7/07 elections, losing 11 seats and gaining just 37% of the vote to the winning centre-right Saskatchewan Party. The NDP had the opportunity to strike out a new and distinct vision for North American society---that of a steady-state economy. It was easier to do this in a province that has been experiencing a net loss in population than one that one was experiencing robust population growth. Instead, the NDP jumped on the growth bandwagon, as it has in Manitoba and British Columbia Growth is good, they said, as long as it is shared. Well, I suppose the electorate decided that they might as well go with the growth experts, the party of developers and big business, the Saskatchewan Party, rather than a pale imitation. The two party system exists so that alternatives can be proposed and are available to be voted on. By playing "Me Too" the NDP in Canada has denied the people any real choice. In fact Social Democrats everywhere seem to be about privatization, cutting services and promoting growth. Even nuclear power is no longer taboo. Is it any wonder that their traditional constituency abandons them? Soon British voters will send David Cameron and his Conservatives into office after a decade of Blairism, of unmet Kyoto targets, rampant crime, and out of control immigration. To say that it is about time that a Tory was back in is an appalling comment on how social democracy has gone wrong.

Whilst I understand Tim's despair at the NDP, I think its always a mistake to vote for a more right wing party.

I can personally remember two occasions when electorates in Australia succumbed to sentiments similar to what Tim has expressed. The first was the election of the Liberal state Government led by Premier Nick Greiner in NSW in 1988 after years of mis-rule by a state Labor Government. Upon winning Greiner embarked upon a savage campaign of cutbacks and privatisations somewhat in the spirit of "The Shock Doctrine" as described in Naomi Klein's book of the same name.

Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, elected in 1992 was worse.

The current abysmally bad high immigration and extreme neo-liberal Howard Government led by John Howard was elected in 1996 after years of mis-rule of Australia by Labor governments

Yeah, I hear you. Cutting my nose off to spite my face. But how else do you teach an incumbent party of that longevity a lesson? You don't do it by joining it and working within. I tried that. For 39 years. The NDP first gained office in British Columbia in 1972 and they performed like no left-wing government in the Western world. They were not social democrats. They were socialists. And they governed with the expectation that they were going to be turfed from office after one term. So they jammed an incredible number of bills though the legislature. They nationalized resource industries. They established government automobile insurance. Free drugs for seniors. And they froze all farmland from development. After their defeat, subsequent leaderships determined to follow a more conciliatory course. Three more NDP governments followed in the next 27 years. My experience was that when in office, the parliamentary caucus developed a bunker mentality. Criticism from within the party was treated the same way as criticism from outside the party. The government agenda was shrouded with secrecy. MPs followed caucus discipline, not internal party bodies democratically elected by members. A personality cult would emerge whereby the leader was not to be questioned. When they were government of course, they would not listen to our advice. Party policy, indeed long-standing party policy was brushed aside. The God was Growth, and the measure of success was the same standard as the right applied. At this point, re-electing the NDP came to mean electing its right-wing clone. Seeing the right elected in its stead came to be a matter of indifference to many activists. Absention and non-participation became our only weapon. In BC now I am faced with a choice. The ruling rightwing Liberal Government of reckless growth and income disparity, or a milktoast social democratic opposition NDP which embraces something called "managed growth" and promises increased social spending. Even in opposition, the NDP will not listen to me. My MP ignores me and I am banned from distributing literature at meetings even though I was a member of long-standing. Can you imagine how impossible the NDP would be in government? I fought to change this party when I was a 19 year old member of its socialist ginger group. After 30 years of trying I give up on social democracy. Working within the movement accomplishes nothing. Voting for them only rewards their duplicity, hypocrisy, dishonesty, intellectual bankruptcy and corruption. Where the Christ is Che Guevara when I need him? Is there somebody out there in Oz reading this who went through similar tribulations with the ALP? Tim Murray

Tim, firstly the experience of the NDP in the Canadian province of British Columbia since has striking similarities with the Australian Labor Party in Australia as a whole. The Whitlam Labor Government wanted to seriously reform Australia in the interest of ordinary Australians. They wanted to make Australia energy independent, and, in general, buy back the farm and control population growth (a fact not widely recognised). They weren't quite socialist, but obviously what they did was a lot better than anything that came before or since.

They were thrown out in 1975 largely due to a successful campaign by the right wing newsmedia, principally Rupert Murdoch's Australian. Since then the Australian Labor Party has drifted further to the right and the legacy of the Whitlam Government, of which the Labor Party should be proud has, instead, been disowned.

Tim wrote: "But how else do you teach an incumbent party of that longevity a lesson?"

In Australia, you make use of the preferential voting system. You give your first vote to a party which has better policies than Labor, then make sure you put Labor ahead of the Liberals (the 'Liberal' Party being the extreme right wing governing party in Australia). That way you can both remove the most obnoxious right wing party from office (or keep the out of office) whilst giving a message that you expect something better from the governing 'left wing' party.

This is far from ideal, but until you get a choice between something clearly good and something clearly bad, you will have to settle for choosing something bad in preference to something worse. If it is done in the way I suggested using the preferential voting system, at least it could bring forward the day when voters may get a choice of being able to vote for something good, instead of just the lesser evil. If, instead, you allow the most obnoxious right wing party to slip into government because of disillusionment with the 'left wing' party you only put back the date when something better may emerge.

Had people not been lulled, as a result of justified disgust with Keating's Labor Government, into allowing the odious right wing Howard Government to be elected in 1996, I think we could have found a way to move Australian politics much further forward. Instead we have allowed Australian politics to be set back by many decades.


James, Oh that we in Canada had a preferential voting system! ... (Continued in tim's blog post Voting Systems)