It would’ve been satisfying to be among the G20 protesters led by a guy crying: "When I say bankers, you say — " And we shout, "Wankers!" Better still, to be the guy. Even so, the pleasure would be limited.

It wouldn’t shake up the traders high in the towers watching the protests below while laying bets on the number of arrests — Bloomberg News quoted a spread of 130 to 140 — as well as deaths and whether more than 20 people would be hurt in charges by police horses. How do you rattle that kind of complacency? I’ll tell you: by having an alternative out there in the real world to their gluttonous, failing, yet still smug capitalist system. Of course they’re smug. They’re the only option available.

Another model existed during the last global depression, in the 1930s. The Soviet Union was socialist and the bloom wasn’t yet off that rose. Visitors from the West often returned with accounts of how well it worked. That shook up enough powerful people to help make the New Deal possible. In Canada in those years, the leader of Canada’s Communist Party, Tim Buck, could draw a bigger crowd anywhere than prime minister Mackenzie King.

During later crises, when the Soviet system had ossified and its stench was unavoidable, there were other models: huge China, little Cuba, all the ex-colonies in Africa and Asia with versions of socialism. They weren’t just in the heads of Western protesters and dreamers; they were on a map. You could go and see (or project) the dream fulfilled.

How do we know this rattled the guys in the towers? Easy. The endless Western attacks on how unworkable those systems were. Never mind Cuba. Do you know how much space The New York Times filled over the years to frighten readers about Canadian health care? Even Natasha Richardson’s sad death was used to scare Americans about "socialized" medicine here.

Most ordinary people can figure out the issues well enough. Economics isn’t rocket science. They know unrestricted greed will lead where it just did, again. It takes a dim bulb like Milton Friedman or Alan Greenspan to avoid that simple deduction. The largest protest group at the G20 was based on climate change, which the summit didn’t even discuss. They see how huge pensions go to failed CEOs while auto workers must take cuts to their own modest, earned retirement funds. But by the time that kind of insight filters up to enter a communiqué like the G20’s yesterday, precious little remains. The guys in the towers can weather almost any degree of common sense with a mixture of denial, mild reform and, above all, patience. They’ll even try a dash of socialism now, as long as it doesn’t involve any socialists.

No matter how often the economy crashes and shatters, they have no fear of being tried and executed for "economic crimes" — a rare feature of Soviet communism that one can actually feel nostalgic for. They and their ilk were even cocky enough to resurrect the Doha round of trade talks in that communiqué — the core of what brought on this catastrophe. They’re basically a cheery lot, with even less to trouble them, since the end of the Cold War.

When this horror story began, back in the Reagan-Thatcher era, I saw a man butt into the front of a line at the post office, demand his parcel, and start out. When someone protested, he turned and sneered: "You just don’t get it, do you?" Fortunately, many still don’t.

On Wednesday, I watched a powerful CBC-TV report about hunger in Africa, much worsened due to the current crisis. Then next morning, I saw the Grade 5 kids in Mr. Eckler’s class at Clinton public school arrive in the middle of 20- or 30-hour fasts that they undertook to learn what hunger means.

"This … is … hard," breathed one in his 25th hour, weak and a bit disoriented. He got it, but it was a different it.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.