Reasonable people are tired of pessimistic and divisive hectoring from our betters, urging us (but not requiring themselves) to sacrifice more and settle for less.
By Joe Oliver, National Post, July 21, 2023
Back in 1961, American conservative intellectual William F. Buckley sardonically observed that “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard faculty.” He was saying that the average person has more common sense than esteemed academics. His remark has even greater resonance 62 years later, now that academia has lost its way in woke madness. But the observation applies equally to progressive politicians and international bureaucrats.
Further proof that IQ and common sense are independent variables — as if proof were needed in an increasingly irrational Western culture — is the de-growth movement and its only slightly less deranged fellow traveller, limited growth.
Both are anti-human, prioritizing animals, plant life or inanimate objects over people. Both are obsessed with apocalyptic visions of a dystopian future, or no future at all, for their fellow earthlings. As environmental anthropologist Peter Sutoris wrote last year in the National Observer, “Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible and … even supposedly green technologies will perpetuate the extraction of natural resources and the destruction of the natural environment.”
Or consider this gem from U.S. Vice-president Kamala Harris, “When we … reduce population, more of our children can breathe clean air and drink clean water.”
What makes the attack on growth both bizarre and indefensible is that growth is what enabled the unprecedented improvement in prosperity, elimination of grinding poverty and advances in health, longevity, education and personal agency for the great mass of people in those countries that since the Industrial Revolution have encouraged or at least permitted it.
This historic achievement is ignored by the hard left in its pursuit of a big-government, neo-Marxist ideological agenda that most people in the free world have rejected as inimical to their liberty, standard of living and personal fulfilment.
Ottawa promotes de-growth by stealth
The current federal government does not overtly advocate for de-growth or limited growth, which would be hard to market even to its progressive base, let alone the broader public.
But its policies advance that result: profligate spending on social programs, which imposes serious debt and interest obligations on future generations; punishing and uncompetitive personal and corporate income taxes that discourage capital formation, training, innovation and productivity growth, undermine prosperity and create a welfare trap; intrusive regulations and pervasive red tape; and interprovincial trade barriers.
There are also its ideologically driven policies, including hostility to development of natural resources, especially energy, and its mind-boggling subsidies to favoured sectors and projects, such as batteries to power e-cars. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies prioritize racial and other group identities over considerations of merit.
The move to ESG — in effect, from shareholder capitalism to “stakeholder” capitalism — undermines an efficient and productive free-market system. The Liberal emphasis on reducing income inequality by favouring wealth transfer over wealth creation also results in lower overall growth. Exorbitant net-zero climate policies impose massive costs on individuals and businesses without the compensating return from a much-vaunted green revolution.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allusion to Canada as the first “post-national” country reveals a mindset more in line with Davos’ Klaus Schwab than the average Canadian, who is proud of his or her country.
National planning by big-government bureaucrats has failed everywhere it has been tried, while international planning by interventionists working in multilateral organizations is, if anything, even worse, far removed as it is from the reality of local economies. EU and UN bureaucrats should instead focus on lowering barriers to trade and enhancing global productivity, including by providing affordable electricity to the billions of poor people without access to it.
Reasonable people are tired of pessimistic and divisive hectoring from our betters, urging us (but not requiring themselves) to sacrifice more and settle for less. Increasing numbers of us may well be ready for the recently unfashionable but nevertheless enduring promise of free markets and human ingenuity.
GDP per capita is perhaps the best single proxy for measuring how people are doing economically. By that measure, as economist Trevor Tombe has pointed out, Ontario per capita GDP is now roughly equal to Alabama’s. Our future prospects are equally grim, at the bottom of the pack of wealthy countries according to the OECD. The de-growth crowd may see that as an accomplishment. I doubt most Canadians do.
For millennia, people had no reason to expect long-term improvements in their standard of living. That changed with the Industrial Revolution, providing hope to billions.
Despite the advance of woke culture, the public is not onside with doomsayers who denigrate economic progress. For most people, human flourishing in an ever more prosperous world is an excellent goal. A government that lectures more than it listens is heading for a brutal reckoning.
Joe Oliver was minister of natural resources and minister of finance in the Harper government.