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Some big ideas

As promised, here is my post putting out some of the many big ideas that are missing from this election.

1. Green jobs, green infrastructure, green cities.

This week we got news that methane is bubbling up from the arctic
ocean floor far sooner than anyone expected, and that carbon dioxide
buildup has been happening faster than climate scientists’ worst
predictions. We are hurtlling towards a calamity that could engulf
almost all life, yet we are talking about at best cosmetic policy
changes. At the same time, we are facing a grave financial crisis that
is bleeding into the real global economy. It could be capitalism’s
gravest crisis yet. A comprehensive green infrastructure strategy can
be part of the answer to both crises.The green economy has become a
trite and empty phrase, but that’s in part because no one has evoked
what it means in a way that is appealing and where people see
themselves fitting into it. Addressing climate change requires a
fundamental reorientation of how we live, work, and play; we need an
optimistic picture of the future world in which climate change has been
arrested. Stopping climate change requires:

  • Massive investment in new urban transit and intercity rail. Free
    urban transit is an idea whose time has come: it would improve the
    quality of life of the urban poor and working class and encourage the
    shift from an auto-centric economy to a low carbon economy.
  • Investment in renewable energy like solar and wind on a massive
    scale, preferring distributed, community-run microgeneration but also
    including solar farms and offshore windfarms.
  • Mandating passivhaus or equivalent standards for all new housing
    and commercial buildings, and subsidizing retrofits for existing houses
    and rental units. Start this immediately, or as close to immediately as
    possible. What the hell are we waiting for?
  • Supporting local production of food and changing the relationship
    between cities and the food-producing areas within and around them,
    bringing producers and consumers of food into closer connection. Many
    of the ideas that have been pioneered by groups like FoodShare could be
    brought on to the political stage.
  • The creation of new local industries to provide equipment and
    expertise for renewable energy generation, low carbon housing, and low
    carbon transit.

All of this means lots of high-skilled, high-wage jobs and economic
activity — at a time when the auto sector and manufacturing as a whole
are being hollowed out in Canada. All of this can be paid for up front
by a blend of carbon taxes, shifting subsidies away from fossil fuel
and cars, auctioned pollution permits, and issuing ultra-cheap
government debt - see below.

2. Challenge neoliberalism

At a time when extensive deregulation and financialization has
plunged capitalism into its gravest financial crisis since at least the
Great Depression, the absence of any articulation of an alternative at
the political level is stunning. Layton’s NDP, supposedly the left wing
choice, are completely within the frame of neoliberalism, discussing
job skills training and tax credit schemes. Now is the time to name the
system and the problems with the system, and strike a blow at the
ideology that has helped sustain it. Now is the time to name what “free
trade” regimes are: regimes of regulation that favour capital and
discipline labour.  Now is the time to say American capitalism is not
the model we want to follow — in fact, it is threatening the global
economy and the health of the planet. Some concrete ideas:

  • Introduce a tax on speculative finance, like the Tobin tax. If not
    now, when? The Tobin tax would contribute to the policy goal of
    deterring highly levered speculation and tempering hot money flows
    while also generating revenue from the most useless, parasitical
    sectors of society.
  • At a time when investors are seeking the security of
    government-issued debt, the government can issue huge amounts of debt
    for barely more than 0% interest. Now is the time to fund large
    infrastructure projects, like badly needed urban transit upgrades and
    new railway lines, or new public housing, because it can be done so
    cheaply.
  • If the banks are too important to fail, and government is going to
    have to bail them out anyway, nationalize them so that the profits will
    be public and not just the losses.  William Buiter wrote at ft.com,
    “Is the reality of the modern, transactions-oriented model of financial
    capitalism indeed that large private firms make enormous private
    profits when the going is good and get bailed out and taken into
    temporary public ownership when the going gets bad, with the tax payer
    taking the risk and the losses? If so, then why not keep these
    activities in permanent public ownership?” Hardened free marketers can
    say this, so why are our “left-wing” politicians too chickenshit to
    make this argument?
  • Talk about the need to make investment decisions democratic.
    Finance capitalism, which was one of the main drivers of trade
    “liberalization” and deregulation, is in crisis. Now there is an
    opportunity to openly challenge trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO.
  • Talk about a reduced workweek and a guaranteed income indexed to a living wage.

3.Take responsibility for colonialism and reshape Canadian-Indigenous relations

The history of Canada is a history of colonialism. The Canadian
imaginary, with its notions of a vast empty wilderness, is colonial to
the core. We moved into someone else’s homeland, and we took the land
through deceit and treachery. We did our best to destroy Aboriginal
cultures and economies. And the colonial project continues to this day.
Here’s how to end it in a way that will transform Canada’s relation to
Indigenous peoples, to their land, and to Canadian history.

  • End the current Canadian policy of seeking extinguishment of Aboriginal title. Period.
  • Respect the right of First Nations to say “no” to economic development on their traditional territories.
  • Sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Give legal status to Aboriginal languages and massively fund their
    support and dissemination — only one small part of taking
    responsibility for residential schools and the history of attempted
    ethnocide and genocide.
  • Abolish the imposed system of Indian Act government and allow Indigenous Canadians to choose their own systems of government.
  • Respect and protect Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous economies.
  • Provide services to Aboriginal Canadians at a level that at least
    matches funding for similar services provided to other Canadians — at
    present, most services to Aboriginal Canadians, which are a treaty
    obligation of the Canadian state, are funded at levels below those
    given to other Canadians.
  • Honour the spirit and intent of the treaties.
  • Educate the wider Canadian population on the history of colonialism, and on the histories of Indigenous peoples on this land.

4. Reinvent democracy

It’s time to to fundamentally reframe
our relation to the state — not as a power structure that looms over
us, but as something we as citizens control and actively participate in
and benefit from, and which develops our capacities as human beings.
Proportional representation is only a basic first step in democratic
reform. More ambitious ideas include: Reform government institutions by
giving frontline workers and service users more of a say in the running
of services. Make decisions locally wherever possible, through
community management of resources and participatory budgeting, for a
start. Promote social solidarity through education and engagement
around fundamental issues and values — questions like, if we really
have to change everything to deal with the climate crisis, what are the
things we really value and want to keep? And should these decisions be
left to the blind imperatives of private finance? Or should we all have
a say in our destiny?

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