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Published on Sunday, October 7, 2018

Witches’ brew of economic contradictions

"Double, double, toil and trouble,” Shakespeare’s three witches chant in the opening of Macbeth. Although Shakespeare didn’t intend his lines to describe modern economics, they seem appropriate. 

            For the last year, Canadian news reports have included regular updates on trade negotiations between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to cancel the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland repeated her mantra – negotiations are proceeding in good faith. 

            Fires burned. Cauldrons bubbled. Delegations met. Endlessly.

            And then, at the last minute, just before a U.S.-imposed deadline – where did NAFTA grant the U.S. the privilege of imposing unilateral deadlines? – someone threw in “eye of newt” and someone else withdrew a “lizard’s leg,” and just like that, we had a new trade and tariff agreement – USMCA, a.k.a. the U.S., Mexico, and Canada Agreement. 

            Poof! The ugly toad turns into a charming prince. 

            Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer took a jaundiced view of the prince -- the U.S. brags about what it gained; Canada praises what it didn’t lose.

            That was on Monday. 


A tale of two pipelines

            Then on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan congratulated each other on what Trudeau proudly called “the single largest private sector investment in the history of Canada” – a $40 billion commitment by a consortium of five global petrochemical companies to build a liquified natural gas (LNG) exporting facility in Kitimat, in northern B.C.

            LNG Canada CEO Andy Calitz said the company is "immediately, today, moving into construction" on the pipeline from Dawson Creek and the processing plant in Kitimat. 

            According to the CBC, Calitz claimed his project has already obtained all the necessary approvals from the National Energy Board, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, BC Hydro as well as 25 First Nations.

            Wait – I don’t understand… 

            The Kinder-Morgan pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands – let’s call them what they are -- would have followed an existing route to tidewater near Vancouver. But it’s bad. Because it’s a pipeline. Carrying fossil fuels. And because tanker traffic to the open Pacific could endanger vulnerable coastlines and marine species. 

            But the LNG pipeline, which will also carry fossil fuel, but will have to slash a completely new route through northern B.C.’s pristine forests to reach tidewater at Kitimat, where tankers will have to navigate an even more perilous labyrinth to reach the open ocean, is a good thing?

            The witches’ hell-broth boils and bubbles. 


Circular reasoning

            The rationale for these developments strikes me as circular at best. 

            We need to sell our products to other nations, so that we can afford to buy the products which they will produce using our energy, which they will sell us so that they can afford to pay for our energy, which we need to sell to them so that we can afford to buy their products, so that…. 

            Ancient Egyptians invented a symbol of a snake eating its own tail; ancient Greeks named it an ouroboros. Its shape has been used by Gnostic Christians, by the Theosophical Society, by Hinduism, and even by chemist August Kekule to visualize the circular structure of the carbon atom.

            To me, the ouroborosaptly describes international trade. I make a profit off you, so that you can make a profit off me. By hoisting each other’s bootstraps, we shall all levitate together. 



Contradictory wisdom

            Back in the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes argued that government intervention could rescue national economies. President Roosevelt took his advice. 

            In the post-war boom, economist Milton Friedman argued that government intervention stifled development. Ronald Reagan took his advice. 

            Now I read that James Buchanan, an economist who, aside from receiving the Nobel prize for economics in 1986, spent his life working under the radar of public perception, believed that governments have only one function -- to make the wealthy wealthier. 

            Democracy, Buchanan felt, favours “takers” against “makers.” Self-interest becomes the only foundation for public policy. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of public interest has been amputated. 

            No surprise that, according to Nancy MacLean’s meticulously researched book Democracy in Chains,Buchanan received funding from far-right groups like the Koch brothers. 

            Buchanan’s personal papers, sealed until his death in 2013, included a list of steps needed to transform the role of government. As MacLean notes, Repugnicans and Donald Trump have already implemented some of them. 

            There’s something wrong with this witches’ brew. Not being either a witch or an economist, though, I can’t identify exactly what it is. 


Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Last week’s exploration of what “consent” means brought a wide variety of responses. 

            Terry Wardrop, for example, commended Rex Murphy’s loquacious editorial in the National Post,arguing that the most offensive creeps in the Kavanaugh/Ford controversy are the lip-smacking journalists.


Eileen Wttewaal took a broader view: “This article on consent, I believe, applies to all situations of power; sexual, but also political, economic, religious, medical, etc. That is why they denigrate the scientific method which is slow, careful and always leaves room for doubt; that listens for NO.”


Several others simply wrote “Well said” or something equivalent.


Tom Watson explored the political ramifications: “Whether Brett Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty didn't seem to be the issue for the 11 male Republicans on the Judicial Committee. For them Kavanaugh's their guy -- a judge, shamefully treated by allegations, put through hell and back by calculating Democrats. Two of those 11 men were also there when, in 1991, Clarence Thomas was their guy. Their ability to hear ‘No’ is just as lacking as that of any perpetrator. 

            As you say, it takes a lot of courage for the mouse to even attempt to bite the lion's tail. Anita Hill knew that, and so now does Christine Blasey Ford -- all of which shows that over the past 27 years powerful men have learned nothing at all.”

            Tom also suggested that by raising the “innocent until proven guilty” slogan, the Republicans positioned the hearing into a court of law, rather than a hearing about suitability for a particular job. 


Isabel Gibson had mixed feelings: “I believe that we will never be without predators, sexual and otherwise; that is, neither individuals nor society can be perfected. To avoid despairing of the human condition I remind myself of two other things that I also believe to be true:

·     Predators, sexual and otherwise, are a minority.

·     We are making progress in making society safer for many vulnerable groups.

            "For myself, I can think of no time in history when I would be any safer, day to day, nor where I would live in less fear -- in my home, in my community, and out and about in strange places. Safety is my expectation, albeit not quite my assumption.”


Bob Rollwagen looked to nature for insight: “Animals seem to have a code which they follow and it is only about procreation. A lion will have sex every twenty minute with his mate when she is in heat and stop as soon as her urine takes on an odour that tells him she is pregnant. I think when humans saw this, they got the idea of random sex for pleasure. They missed the consent process that exists. 

            “Consent in nature appears to be built into their evolution. Consent between humans appears to be very different.”


Inevitably, two writers felt I was attacking men unfairly. 


One was Steve Roney: “You are treating accusations as if they prove something. Anyone can be accused of anything at any time.

            “Even if we were talking about convictions, you seem to suggest that this says something about all men. This is exactly like blaming all blacks for the fact that more blacks than whites are convicted of rape, or theft, or murder. It is a perfect example of sexism, of prejudice. You follow it a little later with a grossly sexist joke; the sexism would again be obvious if you specified that Adam was black.

            “Then the claim that [these men] are all in positions of power does not seem to be meaningful. You cited two men, Cosby and Ghomeshi, who were not in positions of power, other than in the sense that anyone who is very well-known and successful wields some power as a result of that. But if a man was not prominent in some way, an accusation against him of sexual misconduct would not warrant being cited in Timemagazine. So it's meaningless.

            “Our real problem here is that over the past 50 years, we have aggressively burned all the rule books about how men and women are supposed to behave towards one another. All hell, predictably, has broken loose, as nobody knows any longer what is right or wrong. The carnage in innocent lives of both sexes is incalculable.”


The second was Don Martin, who  argued (in three emails and 20 references to supporting documentation!) that men are victims as often as women: “I had a sexual assault experience myself. I don't wish to go into details but suffice it to say it was an older woman when I was young…. While there is more awareness now, the reality of female sexual abusers is still sadly ignored. Studies have proven that boys and men have many, many more unwanted sexual experiences than is known or recognized by society. It is a well-hidden subject.

            “Harassment by women may not be as prevalent as that by men, but I am sure it is much more prevalent than society realizes. Again, I have been a personal victim. The worst manager I ever had was abusive to her staff in front of other staff members and even in front of clients. One of her favourite sayings was ‘Don't get a hard-on over that,’ even in mixed company. As well, a woman I worked with had a habit of patting men on the rear. She thought it was hilarious.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet





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