The linguistic deficit of this recession

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Alongside the economic equality gap, which embodies the current crisis, there's an opinion acceptability gap, which bedevils it. Here's what I mean.

A Strategic Counsel poll in The Globe and Mail this week found: "Slim majority opposes rescue of auto makers." My only surprise was that the majority was not larger. But the question assumed that a rescue is a bailout is a handout, full stop, as has largely been the case in the United States. Responses changed when conditions were added: 88 per cent would be more favourable if auto CEOs took pay cuts, 86 per cent if Canadians got discounts on made-in-Canada cars or if it saved jobs, and 62 per cent if government got an ownership stake in return. Wouldn't you have assumed, from all you read and hear, that there's zero support for public takeover of an auto firm? Most Canadians didn't flinch.

But what if you floated that idea among the opinion elites rather than the unmiked masses? Those editorialists, experts, business leaders, academics, elected officials -- would collectively guffaw, you could hardly get a conversation going at their version of the water cooler. There are rare exceptions, such as Toronto Star columnist Tom Walkom, who proposed taking over Chrysler. But his loneliness makes him an exception proving the rule.

Chrysler is a good, practical example, since the turnaround boys at Cerberus who bought it have found it hard to turn around in this economy, the way you used to be able to flip houses. They might grab an offer. What would be the argument for doing it? Let me ratchet up the hilarity among the opinion elites by suggesting, as a model for it, the CBC. I pause to allow the waves of merriment to ripple through their columns and clubs. Why, at this very moment, har, har, the Harper government is about to loosen regulations and taxes on the private TV nets while denying any and all relief to the CBC.

Yet, the effect of the CBC has been positive not just on its audiences but on the private networks and the people who work for them, many of whom trained at the CBC. It has set standards for others, as the BBC did in the U.K., and created a broadcast environment good for us all. Or you could use Chrysler as Petrocan was once intended to be used -- whoops, cue more hysterical laughter from the know-it-alls.

My point is, you can't even raise these options in arenas where opinion is normally expressed, though the majority, if asked, seems open to them.

Take an American example. CNN ran a poll this week on what people see as the most important economic issue. Taxes ranked last, at 11 per cent. But in the discussion conducted in all those elite arenas, the only alternative voiced to the Obama stimulus approach is tax cutting. This is a very big disconnect. Most "folks" aren't even interested in tax cuts as an approach to the crisis.

These two opinion realms simply do not align, but all the communicative equipment is on the side of the elites. Try to cross the line and even Alan Greenspan, who now argues for nationalizing U.S. banks, isn't so much dismissed as ignored, as if he had stopped speaking and started barking.

This is a linguistic deficit that reflects a democratic deficit, since the views of the majority are simply not heard in a crucial debate.

But it's also one of the things sinking us at the moment because if you can't even voice potential solutions, you are far from enacting them. There is a public appetite for bold policy, but any concrete action, such as nationalizing banks in the U.S., or Chrysler here, would evoke a highly articulate uproar that would inundate -- and intimidate -- those wider spread but muffled views.

I might add that, when I write these columns, I tend to calibrate their language toward my colleagues in the opinion elites, since that's our society's lingua franca. Fair enough, in ordinary times, which these are not.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.