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'Alberta is not Greece yet' … Why do we have to pay for Jack Mintz's mythmaking?

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Jack Mintz


"Alberta is not yet Greece, but it's heading along that path," wrote Jack Mintz in the National Post yesterday. The italics are his.

Mintz's argument that such NDP policies as implementing a modest increase in the taxes of the most profitable corporations, a higher minimum wage and a review of what are thought to be the lowest resource royalties on the planet will usher in economic Armageddon is, pretty obviously, hyperbolic and misleading.

We'll come to a couple of the many reasons why in just a moment. First, though, we need to think about what Mintz's motivations may have been for writing something that, to use language from the bad old days of the First Cold War, it would be fair to call "agit-prop."

For those of you who haven't heard the term for a while, agit-prop was an amalgamation of agitation and propaganda, which is a pretty fair description of both Mintz's latest effort and the mission of the National Post, wherein it appeared.

It was associated with political regimes that relied more on ideology than common sense. You know, like the neoliberals who now dominate the federal Conservatives and both of Alberta's conservative parties, as well as the Reds some of them falsely accuse social democrats like the NDP of being.

Accordingly, while the Post was careful to note that Mintz is employed by the University of Calgary's "School of Public Policy," it omitted mentioning he was, and may still be, an acknowledged advisor to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. So, already, it is fair to say the professor has a dog in this fight.

Mintz also seems to have been an adviser to the Wildrose Party. Brian Jean, the leader of that party, who is now the leader of the Opposition, acknowledged Mintz's role as one of the party's economic advisers. He didn't name the others.

One thing we can say with confidence is that Mintz was not an adviser to the New Democratic Party led by Rachel Notley. (Unlike, say, David Dodge, economic heavyweight and the former governor of the Bank of Canada, whom the Twittersphere was reporting unofficially last night had been recruited as economic adviser by the Notley government.)

Regardless, alert readers will have noted that the NDP won the Alberta election based in significant part on certain policy promises, and that Notley is now the premier of Alberta. So it is quite plain regarding many of the policies now being adopted by Notley and her government that Mintz is a partisan player, a supporter of the party that just lost the election and whose leadership, by the sound of it, has not yet come to terms with that reality.

In addition, as the NDP pointed out in response to other inflammatory and alarming statements made by Mintz during the election campaign, the professor also sits on the board of Imperial Oil, for which he received total compensation of $263,971 last year, in addition to his publicly financed gig at the U of C. He holds 27,985 total common shares, deferred shares and restricted stock units in Imperial Oil $1.4 million.

For these reasons, anyone who reads Mintz's commentary should take his apocalyptic conclusions with a grain of salt.

Now, it's fairly easy to scoff at Mintz's preposterous comparison of Alberta and Greece -- which, in fairness, he backed away from a little in the bowels of his article, deep down where only the most determined readers venture. Most, of course, will have absorbed only his scaremongering and sensationalism.

As Michal Rozworski noted in his Political Eh-conomy blog, "it is completely disingenuous to compare Greece to Alberta."

"Greece has seen its economy lose a quarter of its GDP since 2008 -- a level of economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression," Rozworski wrote. "Unemployment has spiked to over 25 per cent, youth unemployment is over 50 per cent and poverty is widespread. … Greece has been forced into a vicious spiral of austerity driven by an unsustainable debt."

Alberta, meanwhile, still expects to see its economy grow -- albeit at a slower rate than when oil prices were higher. Unemployment is low. There is very little debt. None of this is going to change much, Mintz's claims notwithstanding.

Greece, meanwhile, is being hammered by the leaders of the Euro-Zone to protect German bank profits and the German economy. Alberta, of course, is a powerhouse province in a country with its own currency -- in a way not unlike Germany within Europe -- giving Canadians a degree of flexibility in similar circumstances that would not be available if we were part of a continental currency union.

In other words, Alberta ain't Greece now and it's never going to be Greece, Grexit or no Grexit, and it's hard to believe Mintz doesn't understand this perfectly well.

Similarly, Mintz doesn't explain how he came to the alarming conclusion that "Alberta's capital stock will decline by $9.2 billion in several years as a result of the corporate tax increase alone." But as economist Toby Sanger observed to me in an email, "I suspect he uses the same production functions and formulas that he used to estimate that Ontario would gain $47 billion in new investments, 600,000 new jobs and 8.8-per-cent higher incomes as a result of the province introducing an HST. Ontarians are still waiting for that investment, jobs and extra income from the Liberal government introducing regressive sales taxes."

Data used buy the federal government and others, as opposed to Mintz's not-fully-explained formulas, show that public spending does more to strengthen the economy and create jobs than do lower corporate or income taxes.

And don't forget, back in 2001, when Ralph Klein sat on the throne as Neoliberal King of Alberta, corporate taxes sat at 15.5 per cent -- 3.5 per cent above where the NDP propose to set them -- and resource companies were fat and happy.

There are many other examples of this kind of thing in Mintz's story, but it's going to take someone with a more technical expertise than me to dismantle it one brick at a time.

The important point is this: Mintz is doing what neoliberal apologists always do whenever a progressive government is elected in the still-democratic West: They demand that the governments in question immediately reverse course and implement their favoured policies, and they trot out threatening predictions of disaster if they don't do as instructed and renege on the very policies they were elected to implement. As in this case, these grim forecasts seldom have much to do with reality.

In this regard alone, I suppose, you can argue there’s one similarity between Alberta and Greece!

Well, as noted, we're still a democratic society, and Mintz has a personal right to say whatever he pleases -- but not at our expense, thank you very much.

Why do we have to subsidize his dissemination of destructive nonsense from a publicly financed perch at the University of Calgary where he and a self-sustaining cadre of far-right ideologues in the economics and political science departments have turned the so-called School of Public Policy into a neoliberal think-tank no different from the Fraser Institute?

Why are taxes raised by the people who just voted for positive change being used by a group of ideologically motivated market fundamentalists -- who ironically happen to be public employees -- to finance tendentious propaganda designed to terrify us and undermine the government we just elected?

Maybe privatization, for once, may be the answer! There's not much we can do about Mintz's scaremongering, but not another dime of our tax money should be hosed away on the U of C's partisan efforts to subvert our democracy.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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