Campbell’s Liberals keep failed neo-liberal experiment alive 


The devil incarnate, Osama bin Laden, may have disappeared from the radar screen but one small problem remains.   On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever.


That’s the way it often is.  Single, pivotal events cause a cascade of dominoes that can never can be reset.  For example, the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on June 28, 1914, triggered World War I.

The world was forever changed on November 9, 1989.  The Berlin Wall ceased to be a barrier between east and west Germany. The Berlin Wall symbolized something greater than a physical divide.  It also represented the divide between the competing ideologies of the world’s two superpowers, communist Russian and the capitalist U.S.   The fall of the wall was seen by many as the failure of not only communism, but also socialism.

“The dozen years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the assault on the Twin Towers will be remembered as an era of delusion,” says John Gray, author of The Two Faces of Liberalism.  The collapse of one catastrophic utopian experiment in 1989 launched another — a global free trade market.

Both experiments, Marxism and globalization, have the similar underpinnings, says Gray.   “In both, history is understood as the progress of the species, powered by growing knowledge and wealth, and culminating in a universal civilization.”

The new era, post-Twin Towers, will be characterized by disillusionment of free market ideologies and neo liberalism.  The exact nature of our new era of disillusionment has yet to unfold but a few things are clear.

Many Americans understood the fall of Russia to mean the triumph of capitalism as embodied in the American way of life.  It is now obvious that way of life is not universally embraced by a large portion of the earth’s 6 billion inhabitants.

The rapid consumption of non renewable energy by its engines of industry;  the destructive life style as demonstrated by increasing morbid obesity in children; the worship of celebrity and self; — all symbolize decadence, not the triumph of a world ideology.

It was a popular model that Governments the world over tried to emulate.  They moved decidedly to the right — punishing the poor through reduced welfare and unemployment insurance; rewarding the wealthy with tax breaks.

The only successful left-of-centre governments, like Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party in Britain, integrated capitalist concepts.

But now even Canadians are changing their view of the American dreamland.  In a recent CBC/Maclean’s poll, 25 per cent of Canadians said that they would like to live and work in the U.S.  In 1990, it was 30 per cent.  In the same poll two-thirds of Canadians felt “Cordial but distant” or “friends but not especially close”.

In B.C., warmth towards the U.S. was lowest in Canada, with three-quarters feeling distant from the U.S.  But that’s not surprising, given the treatment of B.C. by the American softwood industry.   When the illegal U.S. duty on our softwood causes the loss of 30,000 jobs, it’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy towards our American cousins.

The opinions Canada-wide are surprising, however,  when you consider that Canada is viewed as the tiny siamese twin of the U.S., joined at the hip.  Whichever way the U.S. turns, it’s expected that we will follow.

What’s odd is that B.C. is again out of step with global ideology.  While capitalist flames raced from state to country in the 1990s, B.C. had a left-leaning government.   At the same time places like New Zealand  swallowed the right-wing prescription whole.

Taxes were cut to the rich in the pretense of creating jobs.  Spending to education and social services were cut.  Public utilities were sold off.   But New Zealanders woke from their right wing dream and tossed the neo-liberals out.

The new prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, had some advice to others who want to try the right-wing experiment, “Don’t try it.  It won’t work.”

Now, B.C. premier Campbell is embarking on his own neo-liberal experiment that has failed elsewhere.  Does Campbell know something he is not telling us?  Perhaps the whole world is out of step but B.C.