Why capitalists should support the European Union

Like most Canadians, I favour the European Union and have a negative opinion of Brexit. According to a poll by Carleton University, 75 per cent of Canadians have positive or somewhat positive opinion of the E.U. and 64 per cent are unsympathetic or somewhat unsympathetic of Brexit.

European Union flag. Image: Vector illustration.

Curiously, Canadian views are partisan. More Conservatives are sympathetic of Brexit than Liberals and New Democrats (46, 13, and 8 per cent, respectively). What’s odd about Conservative sympathy is that Brexit will hurt the flow of British capital.

Equally odd is support for Brexit by Britain’s Tory Party, the traditional party of capital.  Neil Davidson, author and professor at the University of Glasgow, explains:

“The Tory Party is not acting in the interests of British capital in pushing through Brexit. This dereliction of its duty is the result of how ruling-class parties have evolved in the neoliberal era (Harper’s, October, 2019).”

This is further evidence of the shift in conservative values towards populism. The Republican Party in the U.S. no longer has capitalism as a core value, rather it owes fealty to a reckless madcap leader who supporters see as maverick. Britain’s Boris Johnson has the same eccentric appeal.

Here’s why rational conservatives should support the European Union:

“Given the illusions many on the left have about the E.U., it’s ironic that its structure corresponds quite closely to the model of ‘interstate federalism’ devised by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1939,” says Davidson. “Hayek, in many ways the intellectual forerunner of neoliberalism, proposed that economic activity in a federal Europe should be governed by a set of nonnegotiable rules presided over by a group of unelected bureaucrats, without any elected members of government and irrational voters getting in the way,”

British capitalists have always been in favour of the E.U. as a replacement for their colonies. As the British Empire imploded and colonies became self-governing and resistant to exploitation, British capital sought new opportunities for investment and found them right next door.

Not only Britain, but capitalists in Germany and France looked within Europe itself for opportunities. Global capital needed outlets for investment beyond the boundaries of individual states. At a time when decolonization across the Global South reduced slavery as a source of cheap labour, the E.U. provided a means for capitalism within Western Europe.

Contrary to my impression of the E.U. as being a foil to the rising U.S. military industrial complex, the E.U. benefited the U.S. as well. The E.U. was a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance in Europe, part of Washington’s Cold War imperial project.

The global economic crisis in 2008 exposed the structural inequalities of the E.U. as not a union of equals. Germany imposed austerity measures on weaker states, throwing countries such as Greece into depressions.

The E.U. is a model of globalization in which “free trade” is the advertised objective but the imposition of non-trade clauses, such as copyright and protection of Big Pharma patents, is a primary goal.

The E.U. is more undemocratic than any of the nation-states that compose it, including Britain. Its least democratic institutions such as the European Commission and the European Global Central Bank have the most power while the nominally democratic European Parliament has the least. It’s a undemocratic institution designed to prevent social democrats from infringing on the logic of capital in Europe.

Brexit will diminish the power of capitalism as we move into an era of populism and protectionism characterized by the Trump administration.

My hope is that organic movements, such as climate activism, will rise to restore sanity in resolving the greatest threat to humanity.

The supervolcano next door

The horrific deaths of 16 tourists on White Island, New Zealand, are a reminder of the lethal force of volcanoes.

White Island

Lillani Hopkins, a 22-year-old student, witnessed the eruption. She was on a boat leaving the island when it blew. Clouds of scalding hot water and ash descended on those tourists still on the island. Twenty three of the tourists from the island were taken to Lillani’s boat where passengers frantically attempted to treat them. They were in bad shape.

Lillani had never seen anything like it. Welts and burns that covered every inch of exposed skin. People’s faces coated in grey paste, their eyes covered so they couldn’t see, their tongues thickened so they couldn’t talk. Some of them still screaming. The boat appeared to be filled with discarded grey rubber gloves. But they weren’t gloves, they were husks of skin that had peeled away from people’s bodies (Globe and Mail, December 11, 2019).

Most of those who survived the eruption at White Island on December 9 suffered burns and 28 patients remain hospitalized, including 23 in critical condition. Hospitals are calling on international skin banks for the large quantity of grafts required.

Lillani’s chilling eyewitness account reminds me of the victims I saw in Pompeii, Italy. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, plumes of scalding mud covered citizens. I remember one statue-like victim in particular, sitting on the ground, hands covering face, entombed for eternity in a thick crust of ash.

You don’t have to be standing on the rim of an active volcano to feel its affects. I still remember waking up on May 19, 1980, in Calgary the day after Mount St. Helens, Washington, erupted killing 57 people. Even though the volcano was 800 km away, there was a deposit of ash on my car.

The most powerful eruption in recorded history was at Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia. Most of the deaths that resulted were not from burns but from climate change –the 92,000 fatalities were largely from starvation. The ash from the eruption was dispersed around the world and lowered global temperatures in an event sometimes known as the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. The resulting volcanic winter triggered extreme weather and harvest failures around the world.

However, the force of Mount Tambora pales in comparison to the supervolcano that hit what is now Yellowstone National Park before recorded history, 631,000 years ago. That was long before modern humans roamed the Earth. The Yellowstone blast would have been at least ten times that of Mount Tambora, leaving molten ash and rock so thick that it filled entire valleys and left debris over much of the North American continent. The resulting volcanic winter would have killed many animals including some of our prehistoric ancestors (Scientific American, Dec, 2018).

Yellowstone is a simmering supervolcano, characterized by a relatively cool pool of magma sitting on top of a hot plume. The magma is the consistency of crystalline mush that’s “only” 800 C degrees compared with the 1,200 C of the hot plume. The magma is not on boil at this time; however, the relative cool of the magma cap is deceiving. It only takes a few decades of cooking by the mantle below to cause the magma to blow explosively.

When that happens, a few ashes on our cars will be the least of our worries.

Blueberries without borders

Blueberries have arrived from Peru in my local store. Next they’ll be coming from Chile, then Mexico. As spring moves north, they will arrive from Florida.  Then in late spring they’ll be ripening in Georgia, after that California and Oregon. Washington will start shipping in early July.

image: Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia

The northward march of the blueberries ends in British Columbia, where the largest crops in Canada are grown and the season is long says Corey Mintz:

“Because of the warm, sunny weather blueberries need to thrive; many regions have a growing season of only four to six weeks. But the climate of BC allows for a longer season: nearly three months, from early July to late September (Walrus magazine October, 2018).”

B.C. returns the blueberry favour by sending them south -all over North America. Blueberry production in BC has grown from 4.3 million kilograms in 1980 to 61 million kilograms in 2017.

The fact Canada exports any produce at all may come as a surprise. We can’t compete with American growers for many other crops says James Vercammen, professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia. Economies of scale, higher labour and land costs, give U.S. producers an edge.

But as the sun lingers over Canada in the summer, we have an advantage that Americans lack. Vercammen says that British Columbia is “now growing raspberries and blueberries like crazy.”

Things didn’t look so good at the start of the 2018 growing season. Blueberries, like one-third of the foods we eat, depend on pollination by bees.

Bees prefer a balanced diet. In recent years, honey producers have expressed concerns over the nutritional value of a blueberry diet alone. “It’s a single fruit,” said Kerry Clark, president of the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association, “It’s like going to a buffet and the only thing there is salsa. It doesn’t give you a balanced diet.”

Monoculture crops that cover vast areas aren’t very nutritious for bees. Weakened bees are more susceptible to disease and the wet spring this year meant that growers were applying more fungicides –also not good for bees.

That meant that owners were reluctant to send their colonies to blueberry fields. “It’s become less and less attractive, to the point where the beekeepers have decided not to bring thousands of colonies into the blueberries this year,” said Clark.

While blueberry production has increased, the number of bee hives has not kept up. One beekeeper predicted a loss because he couldn’t supply enough hives:

“There’s definitely going to be a shortage of bees in blueberries this year. It will be worse this year. The plants will be there, but the bees won’t be there to pollinate them, so they won’t get the berries.”

But all the worry turned out to be for nothing. As the damp spring turned into a sunny summer, blueberries thrived and by the end of the year there was a glut of the crop. The lower prices were good news for berry lovers but disastrous for farmers.

John Gibeau of the Honeybee Centre in Surrey was philosophical: “If it’s nice weather we do well. If it’s poor weather we do poorly. That’s farming.

Legalize all drugs

Don’t use drugs. If these two statements seem contradictory, it’s understandable. Legalization is approval. And since drug abuse is a problem, why approve drug use?

The flaw in this argument is that drug abuse in not a legal problem, it’s a medical and social problem. It wastes lives and is a burden on our health care system; it destroys families; it consumes the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.

we want beer

Prohibition is a well-intentioned initiative but it doesn’t work. As we discovered in the case of alcohol prohibition, booze was simply driven into the hands of criminals and organized crime who waged war against rivals.

Warring cartels and gangs in Mexico alone killed 120,000 in the years 2006 to 2013. That’s forty per cent more deaths than all the deaths due to illegal drug use in the U.S. according to data from the Center for Disease Control.

Guns in Canada are a serious problem. In the same period (2006 – 2013) there were approximately 1500 gun homicides in Canada. Not exactly the carnage that Mexico is experiencing  but that’s not the point: just because guns result in death and injury, no sensible person would suggest making them illegal.

What does make sense is the regulation of guns. Gun owners must obtain a Possession and Acquisition Licence and renew it every five years. Education makes sense. As a general rule, applicants must have passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.

Tobacco in Canada is a serious problem. In the same period, 259,000 Canadians died due to tobacco-related diseases according to the Canadian Cancer Agency. Education has reduced the number of Canadians who smoke from fifty to less than fifteen per cent.

Politicians have agreed for decades that education is key to harm reduction. As one of the founding members of the Calgary chapter of the Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee in 1976, I received letters from all leaders.

In his letter, then leader of the opposition Progressive Conservative party Joe Clark wrote: “In my view, a drug education programme would be far more beneficial and economical in attacking the problem than using law enforcement agencies and the courts.”

NDP leader Ed Broadbent thought that marijuana should be removed from the Criminal Code and placed under the Food and Drug Act and added: “I would agree with your statement that it does not appear to have any worse impact than alcohol.”

Prime Minster Trudeau wrote that his Bill S-19, one that would remove marijuana from the Food and Drug Act, died on the order paper but his government was pursuing the bill. “[My government] is working to make certain the legislation we introduce strikes a proper balance between concerns over the personal and social effects of penal laws aimed at discouraging its use.”

Time has stood still for the last four decades. Regressive Canadian governments have preferred to pander to misconceptions such as the “war on drugs,” or “prohibition works.”

Meanwhile the U.S., a place we think of a bastion of conservative thought, has leapt ahead of Canada. Now some states, such as Washington, have legalized the sale of marijuana. I just returned from Seattle and didn’t notice any reefer madness in the streets.