Years ago Albert Einstein wrote: “The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labour contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labour contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from ‘pure’ capitalism.”
I used this quote in a speech I made to an Anti-Free Trade Rally back in the late 80’s when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was having The Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiated.
When a deal was ready for ratification the other two federal political parties were opposed. There was a federal election before the deal was signed and FTA was a major issue in the campaign.
Mulroney was returned as PM but a majority of Canadians voted for one of the other two parties.
The implication was that most Canadians were opposed to the deal. Mulroney would not countenance any changes and it was ratified and signed.
What Brian Mulroney and the Tories did not consider (in hindsight maybe they really did) was that in time free trade would render borders between our two nations meaningless where corporate interests were concerned.
This would make it easier to facilitate the free flow of capital to lower cost jurisdictions south of the 49th.
These costs are primarily taxes and labour. The mere threat from a corporation to move would have a dampening effect on wages and taxes.
Many predicted this and they also predicted the pressure to reduce the funding of social programs as result of loss of tax revenue.
If you follow the decline in corporate taxes, decline in health and education spending and the stagnation of workers’ incomes over the last few decades, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was all part of the plan at the time.
It is almost like a bunch of very wealthy, greedy corporate interests got together and devised this scheme to create two distinct classes.
The first is the working poor and the second the uber-rich and render impotent the government which is supposed to protect all citizens equally.
Albert Einstein was right but he never probably envisioned that “Free Trade” would be imposed on a naïve public and how it would compromise the sovereignty of the nations involved, making them leaner as well as meaner and advancing the two basic principles of “pure capitalism”.
My guess is that he would have seen the signs long before the Brits got interested in BREXIT.
FTA was a big win for corporate interests.
They get to use the sales pitch that if we want to keep jobs, tax revenue, health, education and social programs, we must sell off more of our natural resources to foreign interests.
This is taking resources from future generations to give us the illusion of a booming economy for a short time.
We are now even told by the same interests that in order to repair our pot-holed roads we should never question the LNG hallucination, pipelines, log exports when our mills are closed and never question the pie-in-the-sky pronouncements from dreamy-eyed politicians of untold wealth for the province if we just say “yes” each time – even now when they have increased B.C.’s debt liability by something in the order of $130 billion since 2001.
Sure, there is a cost to saying “no” but it is the height of arrogance to think there is no cost to saying “yes” or not to recognize it.
Governments justify their twisted priorities and cut services to people so that taxes to big business can be reduced in the name of keeping them competitive.
We have even had workers unions accepting two-tiered pay packages so that any future hired employees will work for much less.
It is designed to increase the corporate profits and cut down labour costs.
It will keep happening until employment standards are harmonized with those in countries with low wages and no worker protection and get a little closer to the “free-labour contract” Einstein spoke about.
The message from the proponents of free trade and like-minded politicians was that we would all be better off.
The benefits of being competitive with more profit for corporations would trickle down to the average person.
We keep getting a healthy dose of this self-serving clap trap every time a trade deal is announced from the proponents of globalization, but ask the average person if they have been “trickled on lately” and you might get an interesting response.
Ironically it was the effects of this “globalization” – the EU brand – on the people that was in part the catalyst for Great Britain’s BREXIT referendum result.
In the aftermath of BREXIT, just imagine trying to untangle Canada from these arrangements at this stage.
The fact is that currently our economy is influenced much more by decisions made by people occupying the boardrooms of multinational corporations than by politicians you elect to represent you.
But that is okay isn’t it?
Our roads are allowed to get into a state of disrepair and the province’s visionary leaders won’t replace our hospital unless we agree with them and say “yes”?
Respect for a difference of opinion might be a start?
There are costs to saying “yes” as well.
(Editor’s note: Helmut Giesbrecht represented the Skeena riding in the 1991-2001 provincial NDP government.)