Friday, May 27, 2011

The Deficit Cure: Acupuncture or Shock Therapy?

When the neoconservative movement in Canada first appeared on the radar of many journalists, it was tied to the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Both of these leaders launched aggressive attacks on the welfare state, and left devastation in their paths.

Grant Devine in Saskatchewan, Ralph Klein in Alberta and Mike Harris in Ontario, all sought to experiment with the Thatcher/Reagan theories in their respective provinces.

On the federal scene, the Reform Party had their ideology in check, and were just waiting for their turn.

At the time, Thatcher and Reagan were not on tour, so Canada's neocons were taught strategy by New Zealand politician, Roger Douglas.

He held information seminars, speaking to the Harris caucus in Ontario, with Tony Clement, John Baird and Jim Flaherty in attendance; and Klein's in Alberta, indoctrinating Stockwell Day.

But the most important lecture, when it comes to the future of Canada, was presented to the Reform Party of Preston Manning and Stephen Harper, at their 1991 Assembly.
Douglas was introduced by Preston Manning, the only assembly speaker to be so honoured. And Manning told the delegates: There are three basic reasons why we have invited Sir Roger Douglas to be with us ... and three reasons why Reformers should pay close attention to what he has to say ... Sir Roger is an authority in fiscal reform and has advocated and promoted many of the fiscal reforms ... He is not only a reformer in word, he is a reformer in deed. Sir Roger deregulated the financial sector, phased down agricultural and other subsidies .. phased out import controls and drastically reduced tariffs levels. He instituted a 10% flat rate consumption tax (GST)*, with virtually no exemptions ... (1)
And Roger Douglas's most important message to his followers was "don't blink". Once you start cutting, keep going.

And if you developed a case of blepharospasm, uncontrollable eye blinking, a little acupuncture would fix you right up.

Because what Douglas failed to mention was how his policies affected New Zealand.
Dr. John Warnock, travelled to New Zealand to study the effects of what New Zealanders dubbed 'Rogernomics.' The figures tell a story of devastation - a word used by New Zealand's own agricultural minister to describe the state of agriculture in four years after the 'reforms': A 40 per cent drop in farm income; a 50 per cent drop in the value of farm land; a policy of paying 3,000 farmers incentives of $ 45,000 to leave and the suggestion that another 15,000 (out of 79,000) should follow them. Unemployment, which had been at 4 per cent before Douglas's reforms, jumped to over 12 per cent in just over a year and is still increasing.

"Douglas completely eliminated regional development grants and subsidies to rural services. Says Warnock, 'They had things like subsidized petroleum - regardless of where you were the price was the same - subsidized train service, bus service, airport service. They privatized all these things and the prices immediately skyrocketed.' A massive de-population of the countryside resulted, and approximately 40,000 New Zealanders per year have since left the country for Australia to find work ... (1)
He should have blinked.

Shock Therapy

While Roger Douglas may present us with a little trip down memory lane, Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty will probably forgo acupuncture for shock therapy.

This is the remedy prescribed by Milton Friedman, and articulated at places like the Fraser Institute. Friedman believed in taking advantage of disasters, like Katrina, but when none presented themselves, they could simply be created.

His most famous induced disaster, was the Chilean experiment.

In 1970, when a socialist, Salvador Allende, was elected president, many of Chile's elite, were not pleased.
Allende, a physician by training, understood the cost that malnutrition imposed upon the poor and set out to alleviate the grinding poverty in which so many Chileans were trapped. He ensured that every Chilean schoolchild had access to at least a half-liter of milk each day, and that their parents had access to jobs and the means to feed and educate their children. Median incomes began to rise dramatically in the first two years of Allende's term.

To pay for these social programs designed to create opportunities for the poor, rich Chileans who had lived all their lives off of rents, dividends and interest and who had never paid a dime in taxes, found themselves paying taxes for the first time and being forced to morally justify their lives of luxurious leisure at the expense of the poor. They didn't like it one bit. And they began to complain to their friends in Washington. (2)
Fortunately for them Washington was already aware of the situation, and with the help of several corporations, engineered a coup to oust Allende and place the murderous Augustus Pinochet in the presidential palace.

Friedman then took over, encouraging Pinochet to implement "shock therapy" on the people of Chile.
Friedman advised Pinochet to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy—tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation. Eventually, Chileans even saw their public schools replaced with voucher-funded private ones. It was the most extreme capitalist makeover ever attempted anywhere, and it became known as a "Chicago School" revolution, since so many of Pinochet's economists had studied under Friedman at the University of Chicago. Friedman predicted that the speed, suddenness and scope of the economic shifts would provoke psychological reactions in the public that "facilitate the adjustment." He coined a phrase for this painful tactic: economic "shock treatment." In the decades since, whenever governments have imposed sweeping free-market programs, the all-at-once shock treatment, or "shock therapy," has been the method of choice. (3)
And though Friedman and his Chicago School are still being hailed as heroes by Neoliberals/Neoconservative/Free Marketeers everywhere, his remaking of Chile was an absolute failure.
.. The country's period of steady growth that is held up as proof of its miraculous success, did not begin until the mid-eighties, a full decade after the Chicago Boys implemented shock therapy and well after Pinochet was forced to make a radical course correction.

That's because in 1982, despite its strict adherence to Chicago doctrine, Chile's economy crashed: its debt exploded, it faced hyperinflation once again and unemployment hit 30 percent—ten times higher than it was under Allende. The main cause was that the piranhas, the Enron-style financial houses that the Chicago Boys had freed from all regulation, had bought up the country's assets on borrowed money and run up an enormous debt of $14 billion.

The situation was so unstable that Pinochet was forced to do what Allende had done: he nationalized many of these companies. In the face of the debacle, almost all the Chicago Boys lost their influential government posts. (4)
So despite the fact that both of these experiments in economic reform were catastrophes, we know that it will not change Flaherty's or Harper's ideology.

Canadians will probably be subjected to a little "shock" in the upcoming budget, or if not then, in the not too distant future. The convoluted belief being that if we associate pain with social programs, we will not be too quick to want to reintroduce them (Friedman was a nut), especially if they convince us that they have been replaced with something better.

Poverty being good for the soul.

So slap on the electrodes boys. I'm ready.


*The Reform Party was conflicted about the GST, with most wanting it scrapped if they came to power. Harper himself convinced them to keep the GST but eliminate any exemptions.


1. Preston Manning and the Reform Party, By Murray Dobbin, Goodread Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0-88780-161-7, pg. 113-114

2. Free Market Fundamentalism: Friedman, Pinochet and the "Chilean Miracle", By Scott Bidstrup

3. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, By Naomi Klein, Vintage Canada, 2007, ISBN: 978-0-676-97801-8, Pg. 8

4. Klein, 2007, Pg. 123

No comments:

Post a Comment