September 24th, 2018

Guest Column: Regressive Conservatism

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on March 3, 2018.

No one can doubt that we live in unusual times. Those who are sane have watched the rebirth of nationalism and militarism, increased gross economic disparities within societies and between nations, and a frightening increase in general incivility. Is this really happening, they wonder? Is it possible that the last half-century of optimism and hope for the slow transformation towards more humane societies and a more human-centric and just world was all pie in the sky?

There are, however some interesting developments that may allow for some hope. The most recent reviews of the Republican tax breaks given to corporations in the U.S. two months ago are devastating. These breaks were sold as a $1.5 trillion gift to the workers and middle class of America. It turns out instead, as seen in a recent Washington Post article, that $1 trillion of that bag of money, rather than funding the expansion of plants and hiring workers and raising salaries, is being used by most corporations to buy back stocks, just as Democrats predicted would happen.

Why do corporations do this? Buying back stocks leads to an increase in the value of the remaining stocks held by investors (almost always already wealthy) and the executive class of corporations who hold major portions of those stocks. Taxpayers’ money is funnelled to the wealthy, changing absolutely nothing. The wealthy are thrilled. Everyone else, not so much.

Why is this a cause for hope? The Conservative agenda, based on the “The Trickle-down Theory,” is once again exposed as a lie. When governments give money to the corporations in the form of tax breaks, the money simply does not “trickle down” to the workers. Instead the wealthy get wealthier, with no direct benefit for the larger society. This is true in Canada as well, and the economic script memorized by both the supporters of the federal Conservative party and the UCP in Alberta mirrors this American lie.

Locally we hear this mantra shouted from the spittle-flecked lips of both our federal MP, Glen Motz, and our Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, Drew Barnes, as they angrily respond to the recent Liberal budget and the Alberta deficit. Hopefully, local voters, observing the wreckage of Regressive Conservatism down south, will choose to ignore the trickle down lie and more carefully look at the pragmatic realism of the work of governments like our present Alberta government.

Which points to another reason for hope. The Notley government, fighting courageously for workers, and ironically but realistically backing the interests of Alberta’s resource industries, is not only demanding that the federal government do something about B.C.’s blocking of the Kinder Morgan line, it is also offering massive support for upgrading plants that will dramatically increase the flow of energy products through existing lines. No other party, had they the reigns of power, could be doing any better.

In fact, people should acknowledge that, had a Conservative government been elected in the last election, draconian Ralph Klein-style austerity measures would have been implemented. This is the usual Conservative response to economic hard times, which would have resulted in even more pain, more unemployment, and slower recovery, all in the name of “fighting the deficit.” This is yesterday’s thinking. It is Regressive Conservative thinking. It is Jason Kenney thinking. It is thinking that benefits the few who are given permission to climb over the bodies of the rest. Alberta can, and is, doing better.

A third source of hope is rising out of the horrific shootings in Florida two weeks ago. Unlike previous gun related tragedies, this one is beginning to look like there will finally be a crack in the armour of the insanity of American gun culture. Young people who, like the rest of American society, had become inured to the rule of the gun and its uniquely American devastation, are finally rising up to honour their fallen classmates and teachers. They will not be “good little American boys and girls” any longer. They are pointing at the naked insanity which stands before everyone’s eyes. They are demanding change, and change is beginning to come. These young activists are the leaders of tomorrow. Many of them will be voting in the next congressional elections. Many others of all ages will join them.

There is hope. Regressive Conservatism is under attack, economically and socially. There is hope in Canada too.

Peter Mueller is a long-time resident of Medicine Hat who, in spite of all the evidence, continues to believe we can build a better world.

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