How The Household Appliances of Capitalism Use You

When we built our new home 6 years ago we bought all new energy efficient appliances, all from Sears, all Kenmore.  This week while baking some custard, the stove, Kenmore (made by Frigidaire), started beeping and the panel on the Electronic Oven Control (EOC) started flashing “F10”.  We dug out the stove manual and after some digging found out that F10 meant “Runaway Temperature”.  The oven temperature had soared to over 500F while being set at 325F and the custards were small black volcanos.  We turned off power at the circuit breaker since nothing on the control panel responded to the touch controls.  With the power off, I removed the back panel behind the EOC and found it partly blackened from short circuits – it appeared more than one. 

We called a repair person, a very busy man who called back the next day.  He asked how old the stove was and when I told him 6 years he said we were luckier than most.  These EOC systems, he told us, often do not last more than 3 years.  He asked what model number so he could check whether or not they still made a replacement part, if any were available and what the cost would be.  The part cost, he said, usually ran between $300 and $500.  We gave him the information.  He called back after a few minutes to advise the part would cost $326 plus $48.74 tax = $374.74 plus installation.  An almost identical new stove the same size, made by Frigidaire (the company that made our Kenmore) would be $698.  The part for our six year old stove now costs 46.7% of the cost of an entire new stove. 

At our cottage, which we purchased in 1994, there is a stove that was 10-15 years old when we bought it, which makes it over 30 years old now.  Since 1994 we have only had to replace two stove top elements that cost about $25 each.  $50 over 30 years.  It is clear that the world has changed.  The changes made to stoves to make them “smart” are not anything necessary or of great value.  They are ‘frills’!  They add nothing to the essential usefulness of stoves.  Indeed we should fear them since they can allow the stove to turned on and be used when we are not at the home.  Worse they are likely to fail – not anything I would recommend given the determination of appliance manufacturers to provide appliances people cannot depend upon.  After the “runaway temperature” incident, we will not again leave the house with the stove on; in fact we will have to remain in a room close enough to the kitchen to hear if the alarm beeps!

I do a considerable amount of research on capitalism, the economic system which is steadily spiraling into chaos.  Some chaotic processes are slow, like climate change.  Others like accelerated obsolescence are galloping chaos.  The purpose of the few huge manufacturers, who produce for numerous competing brand names, is not to provide us with appliances, never mind safe reliable appliances.  Their purpose it is to maximize profits.  There is more profit to be made from selling new appliances.  Charging exorbitant prices for parts, and making them as hard to get as possible, is a reinforcing pressure to buy a new one.  People desperately need their appliances for keeping food from spoiling, for cooking it, and for washing and other necessities of daily life.  Most of the ‘exotic’ features, like being able to ‘phone your stove’, are really rather useless frills but increasingly it is difficult to find an appliance without them.  These features shorten the life of appliances.  For example the new stove I had to purchase because we had visitors arriving has sensors on each stove top element that shuts them off at 700F.   I suspect these burners will fail early and be expensive and hard to replace after the stove is only two or four years old.  Our stove at the cottage has cooked meals for more than thirty years without any of the so called ‘great improvements’ designed to fail and boost new stove sales.

On a recent CBC Marketplace episode on appliances, I felt sorry for the poor woman they interviewed, a paid employee of the appliance manufacturers, who had to weave and bob around the interviewer’s questions.  I am sure she is a decent person who loves her family and cares about her children and grandchildren.  She is likely a caring neighbor.  She was clearly articulate and intelligent.  It was painful to watch her reduced to mouthing weak, banal excuses and having to defend the indefensible.   At some level she must feel a deep rooted angst.  Many, many people are caught between earning a living and believing in the value of what they do for a living. 

https://www.polyp.org.uk/cartoons/consumerism/polyp_cartoon_Rat_Race.jpg
https://www.polyp.org.uk/cartoons/consumerism/polyp_cartoon_Rat_Race.jpg

Shop floor workers have to build what they know are shoddy products.  Managers are under pressure to make them produce as much as possible for as little as they can pay them with little regard for pollution or worker safety.  Industry apologists have to defend the indefensible.  They all undermine their self-respect acting on behalf of shareholders seeking maximum profit in the next quarter.  I suspect it is an underlying cause of much of the drug abuse and alcoholism and even suicide that are slowly growing in our societies.  Much work in our society is not fulfilling or ennobling, but demeaning.

Let’s nurture and assist worker owned businesses to produce basic reliable appliances and parts close to the people who need them.  Yes, we do need ‘right to repair’ laws, but we can do far more by building a better, more people centered economy, that will be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  Let’s require the corporations producing garbage appliances to take them back when they fail or cannot be repaired at a reasonable price and make them recycle every component.  If they had to absorb the cost of the garbage they produce, rather than to pass it along to society to pay, they would be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  If the appliances and their parts were made by worker owned companies close to the buyers and their communities, they would pay fairer salaries and provide needed benefits.  Starvation wages, exploited women and children workers, cheap unsafe working conditions, tax avoidance and seeking lax or non-existent environmental protection are key standard tools of investor owned firms to maximize profits.   

As with so many increasingly urgent issues in our investor driven economy, the appliance mess is not an aberration but a standard, logical outcome of capitalism.  Just one more part of chaos capitalism.

An Attempt at an Honest Settler Perspective and Fair Reconciliation

Having a day to honour the people who were here before any European settlers is long overdue.  I grew up in Canada learning so little about the people who settlers found here some 500 years ago, that an honest description of what I knew has to be an admission I was totally ignorant. Let’s be honest with ourselves as settlers.  Our ancestors came here wanting to believe this land was free for our taking and they convinced themselves it was true. 

Most settlers back then, and still some today, eagerly bought the falsehood that the people who had lived here successfully for more than 12,000 years were ‘savages and inferior to them.’  It made the theft of their land not just OK but allowed settlers to cloak themselves in righteousness.  They could ‘civilize’ them and lift them out of their ‘paganism’.  For the most part, Christian churches left their gospel of love buried and amplified the same immoral beliefs.

While the federal residential school system began around 1883, the origins of the residential school system can be traced to as early as the 1830s — long before Confederation in 1867 — when the Anglican Church established a residential school in Brantford, Ont.  Prior to this point, churches had built non-residential schools specifically for Indigenous children since the mid-1600s.

We did not shed much of those racist beliefs in the ensuing 500 years.  When you steal a people’s land you must cling to the justification.  When you cloak your actions with racist and religious belief it justifies the use of brute force.  In line with those racist beliefs, we did horrendous things.  Not only did we steal the land of the indigenous peoples, we compelled them to live on small pieces of their land which we ‘reserved’ for them, except when we decided we wanted some or all of those reserved pieces because they were too valuable.

But that was just the start.  We destroyed their families by stealing their children under the guise we would educate them.  We stripped those children of their dignity, their language, their culture, and their ability to learn how to parent and how to live in and contribute to their communities.  Treating them as inferior made them feel that they were inferior.  They were physically punished for even speaking the languages they learned on their parent’s knees. 

Those children whom we forcibly tore from their families and communities were often physically abused and sexually abused.   Too often the food, living conditions, and poor health care led to the deaths of the school inmates.  The racism made such treatment seem justifiable or at least not so bad.  It was deemed less immoral to abuse people not seen as fully human.  But deep down there was shame.  There were people in government and the churches who knew this was evil.  Governments and churches protected themselves by burying the truth.  Hide, redact, and destroy.  These were not thoughtless acts.

Being treated as a sub-human makes people feel subhuman and see themselves as inferior.  Racist behaviour does not produce happy, healthy individuals, families or functioning communities.  It warps and erodes them.  Settler racism took comfort from observing the damage that had been done and seeing the dysfunctional families and the substance abuse as proof that their racism was justified.  It is easier to blame the victim than wear the mantle of the oppressor.

To complicate matters, our funding of indigenous health care, education, housing, economic development, clean water, social services – our funding of all the foundations of indigenous life has been significantly substandard and racist.  We have foisted our governance structures on them using them to threaten, intimidate and sometimes corrupt the leaders we insisted be chosen our way.   When push comes to shove we call in the police or the army to show them who is boss on the lands they still own.   We are using nicer words lately but the relationship is still deeply tinged with the old superior racist beliefs.  The value of the land we stole could have paid for the best care and services. 

Comfortable in our supposed superiority we ignored enormous realities.  As we went about the destruction of the beautiful stolen land, poisoning of the water, polluting of the air, destroying the forests and bulldozing for minerals.  We never looked back to admit that after 13,000+ years on this land indigenous peoples had made hardly a dent in its pristine beauty.  We showed our contempt for the beautiful world we said our God had created, and we derided indigenous beliefs about respecting the work of the Creator as a sacred duty.  As we stagger toward climate change, dying oceans and the sixth great extinction of species on the planet, we are just now, just sometimes but perhaps a bit more every day, beginning to recognize the wisdom that we once ridiculed. 

The traditional settler view of the natural world is that we as the dominant species have dominion or control over all of the natural world to do whatever might benefit us in some way.  We have believed humans are above nature, not a part of it but some sort of ‘demi-gods’.   At the risk, as a non-indigenous person, of over simplifying, indigenous cultures treasure nature as a gift of the Creator, see themselves as part of nature, as interdependent with all life, the earth and the universe.[i]  This way of seeing the world is at the heart of what we used the residential schools to destroy. 

It is also what a growing number of settler scientists are rediscovering to be true.  Martin A Nowak, a world expert on evolution, in his book Super Co-operators:  Altruism, Evolution and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed, shines light on the reality that it is not hyper individualism and competition that were the main drivers of the evolution of life from single cells to super complex life forms, but co-operation that played a far greater role.  What evolution demonstrates most often is the survival of the most co-operative life forms.  For more than a hundred years the science of ecology has taught us about the interdependence of all life on our planet, but our business and government leaders have not listened. 

More recently, UBC Professor Suzanne Simard in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, has taught us about the intricate web of sharing and communication that exists between trees both above and below the ground, a symbiosis of roots, fungi and myriad forms of life that supports healthy forests. 

The task of reconciliation involves stopping hiding from the truth, abandoning myths of racial superiority and accepting that we need new ways of thinking about nature and our place in it that respects indigenous understanding, their science and beliefs.  We need to stop organizing human society and using nature regardless of the damage to serve and maximize returns to capital.  We need to begin working with nature, respecting the interdependence of life and the dignity of all people.  

And what of the future?

When people are caught stealing, the first healing usually comes from giving back what was stolen.  Giving the land back – well that is not going to happen is it?  What can we do given that our own courts recognize, and more and more of the descendants of the settlers now acknowledge, we are living on indigenous land?   What does it mean beyond lip service? 

Let’s consider a bold solution.  If we live on land that belongs to another person or company we pay rent.  Let’s settle for a rental relationship.  We rent their land with a very long term lease.  We can settle on an annual rental at a price that reflects a combination of the value of the land, and provides more than enough income for indigenous people to look after their own governance, education, health services, housing, economic development, social services, water – the essentials they need to live. 

It may be that some will say things like: ‘But they will waste it.  They do not have the experience to develop the good judgement needed to make these complex decisions.”  Some of their leaders who are wounded people (remember the enormous damage settlers and our governments and churches did) may make bad decisions.  They too are human.  But they will have a hard time catching up to the horrendous decisions made by settlers, churches and governments – our wounded people.  Indigenous leaders will learn from their mistakes hopefully much faster than our churches and governments and businesses have learned from their mistakes. 

Indigenous peoples will not likely become the drivers of the sixth great extinction, climate change or exploding income inequality.  They will not likely bury thousands of their children in unmarked graves.  When it comes to governing their lives it is surely their turn.


This photograph by Brian Guns is of a painting by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, a Haida artist which appeared in the July 17, 2021 Globe and Mail Opinion section, Page 9. It is included here with the generous permission of the the artist. I am grateful for his permission and hope we will soon start paying our rent.

[i] https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/indigenous-people-and-nature-tradition-conservationhttps://firstnationspedagogy.com/earth.html ;

Let’s Not Burn Our Forests for Heating

As the map clearly shows, supplying Northern Pulp and Bowater Mersey has been a destructive process for our forests.   We have clear cut far too much of our 12 million acres of our forests to supply a low value product – pulp wood.   Since the closure of the mills, some are advocating use of the wood, which used to be delivered to Northern Pulp, be used for area heating plants in our towns.  The proposal is looking for huge government funding to convert the wood into chips or pellets to heat groups of buildings. 

Canada’s Managed Forest and Logging CO2 – Data from Canada’s National Inventory Reports Based on aCHART by Barry Saxifrage & National Observer.com April 2021.    

The Chart “Canada’s Managed Forest CO2” shows how since 2000 we have managed our forest to destroy its Carbon Dioxide absorbing ability and turn it into a carbon dioxide emitter. 

Ideally our forests should be one of our defences against rising greenhouse gas levels and climate change. They were, but they are no longer. Mature forests absorb carbon dioxide. The bigger the trees the more they absorb. The tiny trees in clear cuts absorb very little CO2. When we ruthlessly cut old growth and clear cut forests, their capacity to absorb C02 declines. Clear cut forests, especially when turned into mono culture, do not regenerate well. Clear cutting with heavy machinery rips apart the forest floor exposing it to erosion, losing even more carbon dioxide that was stored in the forest’s earth. We are left with a degraded forest and degraded earth to nurture it.

Nova Scotian forest policies have made us a contributor to turning our forests from being part of the solution to being a growing part of the problem rather than a growing part of the solution. Worse still one of the major uses for wood from Nova Scotian forests is turning it into wood chips and shipping them to Europe to be burned. This use of wood as the chart below shows is far an environmental disaster.

CO2 PER UNIT OF ENERGY  – Tonnes of CO2 per TJ of heat from burning each carbon source.  Data from IPCC 2006 Table 2.2 Default Emissions Factors for Stationary Combustion.  Coal ranges for 95 for coking coal to 98 for anthracite and up to 101 for lignite.  National Observer April 2021

Work by Dr. Suzanne Simard, a forestry biologist at UBC, shows the intricate network of mutual sustenance different types of trees provide to each other in a mixed forest.  What we do not want to do is return to creating mono culture woodlands to produce a low grade of wood for a new low grade, low value use that accelerates climate change.  Using the forest for wood chips so we can return to the Northern Pulp, Mersey Bowater type of forest usage would ensure destroying even more forest.  It would ensure, that instead of helping combat climate change, our forests would increasingly contribute to climate change by burning wood.  It would leave our grandchildren to carry the terrible burden of our short sightedness.  It would also leave us with weak forests.  As Suzanne Simard’s work so clearly proves, the mono culture forest is an unhealthy forest. 

Part of the misleading claim made for the district heating option is that burning wood is using a renewable energy source and that it somehow helps with climate change.  The chart, “CO2 Per Unit of Energy,” points out the reality.  Burning wood produces carbon dioxide.  Even if technology can improve the efficiency and get CO2 emissions down to Fossil Gas and Diesel levels, using wood for area heating plants is doing exactly what our children and their children need us to urgently stop doing. 

We have just witnessed the financial power of the large players in the forest industry and the power of their misleading advertising to stampede the provincial government.  Let us remember we are living on the unceeded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.  Land we appropriated under the guise that we were a superior people.  Surely the least we can do is stop abusing that land.  Surely we are ready to stop stealing a reasonable life from future generations.   Forests have been around for 400 million years.  Indigenous people left them in pristine shape for us for at least 13,000 years.  It is time we learned to live with our forests and co-operate with them rather to destroying them for tomorrow’s quick buck.  Let’s opt for short term discomfort for long term gain.  Lets plan a high value added use of any wood we harvest that employs more people than slash and burn.

We need to abandon the bogus notion that forest biofuels are renewable energy and move on to a world that values and supports future generations rather than ripping their future apart. We need to turn to the forest management practices championed by Elanor Ostrom the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Lets make the management of the forests the responsibility of the people who work in them with a set of government policies that give incentives for high value uses and disincentives for low value uses, damaging biodiversity, degrading the forest soil and clear cutting. Co-operatives of wood lot owners encouraged to practice sylviculture and forest worker co-operatives with incentives to learn sylviculture.

This was initially written before the Climate Catastrophe spawned heat domes and record setting hot weather across Western Canada and around the world. Forests are blazing in the USA, Greece and Turkey as well as in Canada. What does it mean? The impact of the fires is to rapidly increase CO2 emissions and accelerate climate change. The reality our children must face is that the Governments of Alberta and Canada led by Jason Kenny and Justin Trudeau are accelerating the burning of not just our forests but forests around the world. The realty is that every Canadian is paying a substantial tax bill to subsidize expansion of oil and gas and paying taxes so big oil can have more and more to produce and sell without regard for the catastrophic impact. We are financing an attack on our grandchildren.

BC forest net CO2 balance, without logging emissions

Lessons from Runaway Capitalism: Capital as ‘god’ and Capitalism as Religion

Do we see a need to transform our society?  Why do those who look after our children and our seniors get paid so little when we say we value what they do?  Why did Canada’s billionaires increase their wealth by over 35% during the first nine months of the Pandemic while millions faced unemployment and rent and food insecurity?  Why do the cleaners and retail cashiers get very low pay and insecure work without sick leave?  Why are we subsidizing oil exploration when we know if we burned all the reserves we have already found we would ensure runaway climate change?  These are just a few of the questions that suggest we have lost our common sense.

As we look around us at all the things that make ‘no sense’, there is a growing realization that all this ‘non-sense’ is connected.   It is like discovering a powerful, invasive weed in your garden.   The weed has a strong set of roots supporting hardy leaves and seeds.  The roots spread out choking all around them and sending up new shoots with more leaves and more seeds.  The seeds spawn ever more weeds.   The weeds, like cancer, choke out life. 

A truly functional economy is one that provides humanity with the goods and services we need to live decent meaningful lives.  In doing so, it must not destroy the natural world of which we are part and upon which we depend.  To discover if our economy is healthy we should measure what percent of people have important goods and services like an adequate supply of food, clothing and shelter, and have access to education, health care and meaningful work.  But we do not do that.  Instead, our governments measure gross national product (GNP), the amount of wealth or capital produced.  

They do not regard how that wealth is shared as important even though it was produced through the efforts of billions of people who get to share little of it.  They do not measure the destruction of nature required to produce wealth.  They do not measure impacts on health like the millions of deaths per year caused by fossil fuel combustion. 

We are instructed that if GNP is growing our economy is healthy.  We are taught it does not meant the economy is unhealthy if:

  • Most of the wealth goes to only 1% of the people; 
  • The economy pollutes the drinking water of millions;
  • Spews toxic fumes that make millions of people sick;
  • Workers are paid too little to buy food;
  • The Earth’ climate is altered so that our children will have a difficult life and our grandchildren may have no life at all;

We are told, as long as GNP is increasing as rapidly as possible and the owners of capital and the high priests of capital are happy, all is well.  The same message often comes from the governments who are responsible for the wellbeing of society.

Examining the things that do not make sense, it becomes clear that the forces driving the growing sense of chaos in our world are forces that destroy life in all its forms.  The chaos is driven by a worship of capital.  We have allowed all life on the planet and the planet itself, including human society, to be organized around serving the insatiable needs of capital.  Capital is a product of our imaginations.  ‘Capital’ is a useful idea that has become the ultimate weed, the cancer of our living planet.  It should be a tool we use, but it has become the new ‘god’ and all else, nature and humanity, have become tools serving this new ‘god’. 

Maximizing profit always involve a sort of sacrificial offering.  Sacrifices come in many forms.  It could be a worker paid $2 a day, or a pristine river filled with poison, or a female or black worker paid less, or a thousand people thrown out of work or a child dying from pollution induced asthma.  It could be someone needing a vastly over-priced medicine or someone forced to work when they are sick or workers injured or killed by unsafe working conditions or a ten year old child forced to work.  All of these sacrifices increase profit.  These are sacrifices we are told we must accept to avoid the anger of the ‘angry god capital’.   There are many millions of these sacrifices daily. 

The billionaires are the new holy family.  Their high priests are the corporate managers, lobbyists, high finance traders, chosen academics and politicians – all those purchased (hired or given money) to do their bidding.  As just one example, between 2011 and 2018, lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry recorded 11,452 visits to the federal government, six contacts per working day. (University of Victoria, Corporate Mapping Project) 

The High Priests are the ones who ensure governments obey.  They lobby, threaten, cajole, buy billions of dollars of advertising, play philanthropist, fund sympathetic education to produce good compliant workers, advertise in schools, and, when all else fails, they sue or use the justice system to threaten. They move capital to tax havens beyond the reach of governments and lobby for lower taxes on their corporations and themselves.   Billionaires and their high priests do not need grubby public services like healthcare or disability pensions or social services.

Well the owners of capital do need some government services. 

  • They need a legal system that protects them and enforces contracts. 
  • They need police to protect them. 
  • They need armies to defend them and create markets for their products.
  • They need access to natural resources they can turn into profit. 
  • They need trade agreements that they get to help write, that work well for them. 
  • They need regulations that they can circumvent but poorer people must obey. 
  • They need government to tax the 90% to pay for their subsidies and infrastructure.
  • They need a justice system they can afford better than the 99%.

To obtain what they need they have created the “corporate welfare” state. 

Everything in the universe has to be put to the service of this new ‘god’ to ensure  a ‘profit’ for ‘the god capital’.  Everything.  Rocks and minerals.  Water and air.  All forms of life.  Plants and animals.  Human society.  Education.  Health care.  Universities.  Research and learning.  Religion.  Trade.  Governments.  The atmosphere and the stratosphere.  The moon and Mars and someday, in the psychopathic dreams of this ‘god’s’ followers, the stars.  All must now be seen as having value and meaning only in as much as they can be used to grow capital.   

Alas, all is not well in the capitalist economic religion.  The disasters produced by the millions of daily sacrifices are being noticed and understood.   Like a cancer whose growth has proved too successful, its runaway cells are now choking human society and indeed all life on the planet.  As we look around us it becomes clear that we have abandoned a reverence for life and the search for meaning.  The only meaning has become amassing more and more capital in fewer and fewer hands.   This beautiful planet, this jewel in the universe, may possibly be reduced to a barren piece of space debris by runaway climate change.  

In the capitalist religion anything that produces profit can, and in most cases, will be done.   The high priests of capitalism tell us that the less the size of government beyond what is needed for the corporate welfare state, the better.  Everything should be left to the increasingly dysfunctional markets where all is decided by one dollar one vote and 1% have more than 50% of the wealth.  In the US the 1%, as of 2019, own 56% of all traded equities.  Since the explosive growth of billionaire wealth during the pandemic, amid the suffering of the two thirds of the population living pay cheque to pay cheque, and 6 million slipping into poverty, the stock markets have soared.   The $1.2 trillion in new billionaire wealth had to be religiously invested by their managers and accountants.

The sacrifices to catastrophe capitalism are producing wild fires and floods, droughts and severe cold snaps, super storms and killer heat waves, food insecurity and refugees, rising plastic filled oceans with declining life, health destroying smog, people dying of hunger growing food for the super-rich, growing extinctions of life forms – an almost endless list.  Is this really the best and only way to organize our economies?  Is it beyond our imaginations to say ENOUGH!  Must we be silent until this catastrophic capitalist religion destroys itself and the ability of the planet to support life? 

Imagine we were 300 people on a ship with a failed communication system that went aground on an uninhabited island far from shipping lanes.  As we gather ashore we begin the process of figuring out how we will survive.   We get settled enough to hold a large meeting which most people attend.  Plans are discussed on the things we need to do together.  Finding food, building shelter, caring for any sick or injured, a care organization for the children, establishing some rules of behaviour and more.  People begin forming into groups for various tasks.  Then a loud voice commands our attention.

            “There is a better way to do this, he says.  Fred here is the richest person and he knows best.  We should approve an organization whose purpose is to make Fred richer and richer providing us with what we need.  He will decide what to do and how to do it and who will do what.  Everything that is done will make Fred a profit so he will have the motivation to get things done.  Fred’s greed will make everything happen and the benefit will trickle down to everyone.”  One would hope the laughter would be deafening.  Yet it is a good description of the economy we need to replace.

Where capital is ‘god’, every new idea has to be milked for its possible contribution to profit.  The capital centred objective is how can the person with that new idea turn it into personal gain?  Then, how can some capital-centred agency, a corporation, buy that idea and use it to create as much shareholder profit as possible and exclude others from ‘profiting’ from it?  The objective of capital is market control to eliminate competition.  That is how to ensure the maximum price the market will bear.  If a profit can be made from an idea, but it destroys life or undermines society and meaning, capital owners want to know how they can  prevent regulations from standing in the way of maximizing profit?

Can we transform our relationship to nature and build a society and economy that serves life rather than ‘milking it’?   Can we create a society and economy that enhances the meaning of our lives rather than draining and constraining meaning?  Can we fashion a society and an economy that, to borrow the words of Ursula Franklin, “that would treat nature with the same respect as all governments of Canada have always treated the United States, as a great power and a force to fear.”  Nature is a great power and abusing it for billionaire profit should give us great fear.  We can switch, we have alternatives and indeed we must begin the transformation.

Coming Next: A Nature and People Centered Economy

Pursuing an Insane Balance

Balance is one of those words that radiates goodness.  We should lead a balanced life.  We should avoid extremes and keep everything in balance.  A balanced assessment is a good assessment.  These statements radiate good common sense.  But it is a word that can be abused.  Two examples leap out at us in our present world.  Examples where the concept of balance becomes a mask for enormously destructive suggestions masquerading as being balanced.

The first is in the discussion of climate change.  We are told with grave authority that in responding to climate change we need to balance the health of the economy and business with the health of the planet.  If we put in place too many restrictions on carbon emissions we will trigger an economic decline, throw millions of people out of work and trigger immense human suffering.  Our daily lives require fossil fuels for cars, public transit and air travel.  We are told we need to be very cautious about how we rein in greenhouse gas production.  This analysis is false in the short run, disruptive in the medium term, and a long term catastrophe. 

If we begin reining in greenhouse gas production as rapidly as possible, phasing out fossil fuel production, and do it stupidly, then there will be negative consequences.  Environmentalists are not asking the world to abandon common sense.  What they are asking for is a good common sense plan to reduce our use of fossil fuel as quickly as possible.  We are not getting such a plan.  Instead we are getting stupid statements like Prime Minister Trudeau’s assurance in Texas, to the oil industry, that we are not ‘stupid enough to leave all those valuable fossil fuels in the ground.’  Or the absolute nonsense suggestion from Alberta premier Kenny that we should start a trade war with the United States because President Biden has cancelled a pipeline.  What else could he say after he ignorantly invested $1.5 billion of Albertan’s money to ensure he could ramp up production of high pollution tar sands bitumen?  Kenny’s words spell out hard reality denial.  He talks for big oil.  Trudeau’s words are soft denial.  He talks for our grandchildren but does what Kenny and big oil want.

A so called balanced appraisal would take a cold analytical look at the mounting daily cost of ramping up greenhouse gas production.  Almost daily around the world we see the enormous negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.  Wild fires, floods, droughts, extreme heat waves, super storms, species extinctions, disappearing glaciers, rising ocean levels with declining life in them, and more impacts, are on the increase year after year, just as thousands of scientists predicted.  Insured and uninsured losses are climbing.  The data from global ‘reinsurance companies’ who insure insurance companies, is very clear.  This is not damage a decade from now.  This is damage measured over the last decade.  It is significantly less than the damage to our economy that will occur over the next decade.  It is a fraction of the damage to our economy we can anticipate between 2030 and 2040.  Beyond that, runaway climate change will simply lead to complete destruction of the economy as we now know it.  That is our grandchildren’s economy.

What will it look like?  Imagine, in many areas of the planet, not being able to insure your home, or almost any building, not built to withstand 250km/hr winds.  What will it cost to build storm sewers capable of absorbing multiple 150mm rain storms, and what will be the cost of not building them?  The sixth massive die off of species will have been dramatically accelerated – that is plant and animals.  Food security disruption will be catastrophic.   The 2017 UN Ocean Conference, notes “More than 600 million people … live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level.”  If you want to believe these, and many more frightening consequences will not happen, just go and read what reputable scientists are saying: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree.”

When political leaders say we need to balance environmental impacts and the economy they have capitulated to those who will lose a lot of money.  Not to have a plan with hard targets for 2030 and 2035 and 2040 is to be out of touch or denying reality.  This is a misuse of the word “balance” to mask insanity.

And Then There is the Pandemic

The second masquerade of balance also involves the economy.  We need to balance the restrictions needed protect health of society with the health of the economy and business.  Look at the chaos in the United States.  Look at the chaos in Alberta and Ontario and other provinces.  Weekly their leaders agonize over restricting freedom and causing economic harm.  Some like Premier Kenny have even gone the extra distance of likening COVID 19 to the flu and musing in May 2020 that, “The average age of death from COVID in Alberta is 83, and I’ll remind the house that the average life expectancy in the province is 82,” he said.  “I’m not sure what to make of that, but it suggests that if you make it to 83 before dying of COVID-19 you’ve already beaten the odds, so, congratulations.”  This was in defence of easing restrictions on individuals and business. 

For the ideological extreme right who do not want to limit their freedom so others may live, this is a logical position.  Thankfully most people in society believe in protecting one another including the elderly, indigenous people, Blacks, people of colour, the homeless, those with pre-existing conditions.   The people who care are the people who make society livable and civilized.  In any ‘civilized’ society, the hopefully very small minority who think their freedom ‘Trumps’ other people’s safety and health, are restrained from irresponsible action.  The restraint may be a prohibition from driving over speed limits, not being allowed to yell fire in a crowded theatre for the pure fun of it or holding a super spreader event just because they feel like it.  Allowing unbridled personal freedom is out of balance.

The business case for easing restrictions and raising them again and easing them and raising them again simply does not exist.  Canada’s billionaires increased their wealth during the pandemic, between March and December 2020.  Canada’s top 44 billionaires grew their fortunes by $53 billion from April to October, or by more than 28 per cent.  (Tax Fairness Canada)  Their businesses thrived with the restrictions.  We need a significant increase in their taxes to help the many small and medium businesses, and those whose incomes were lost, get the protection they need to survive.  That includes protection from on again off again on again restrictions.  Easing restrictions prematurely is not an act of balance, it is the response of weak leaders to the pressure from a minority.

Economic Inequality Produces Imbalance

Throughout the pandemic people around the world have been amazed and inspired by those willing to put their lives at risk to make sure society functioned.  The courage of health care workers, cleaners, truck drivers, the supermarket workers who go to work even when afraid or exhausted is an expression of the very best of what it means to be human.  Caring for the dying is both rewarding and soul destroying.  The higher the rates of illness, the more it can be soul destroying especially when you know thousands of others not dying of COVID can be dying from lack of care.  Back to balance.  Easing restrictions during a pandemic in response to a minority within the business community, and the extreme right minority just because they are part of your political base, is not balance.  It is insanity.  

The UPC party in Alberta takes the ‘Insane Imbalance’ prize.  When should you pick a fight with doctors?  The UPC response – during a pandemic.  When do you fire thousands of health care workers so they can be paid less?  The UPC answer – during a pandemic.  Ontario’s Conservative government is the clear runner up. 

Let’s stop the insanity of balancing the wellbeing of our people against someone’s misguided idea of the ‘economy’.  The purpose of an economy is to provide people with the goods and services they need to live, and a way to contribute to society that provides meaning.  The greater the number of our people who are suffering, the weaker our economy and society are and the weaker they will become.  The fewer who can contribute to society, the weaker the economy and society. 

It is more important that we measure how many people have access to good food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, medicine, child care and other basics of life than to measure how much wealth is produced to be shared increasingly among the richest 1%.  We need to move to a people based economy, a co-operative economy and away from a capital based economy whose rules and structures are geared to benefit the very few.

Lessons From Runaway Capitalism: Lesson 1: Let Us Not Be Smug

“Humanity faces a potentially terminal crisis of collapsing environmental systems, extreme and growing inequality, failing institutional legitimacy, and disintegration of the basic trust of one another on which the social fabric depends. No individual caused these vast problems, and no individual or group of individuals can solve them alone.” David Korton, Yes Magazine, 21 Jan 2021 https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2021/01/21/biden-presidency-build-back-better/? 

The events in Washington DC on January 6 were a logical outgrowth of a series of events and trends that have unfolded over a number of decades.  The attack on the Capital was not the opening round of an attack on democracy but the logical product of a significant long term erosion of democracy. The Trump presidency did not spring out of nowhere.  It was made possible, perhaps even inevitable, by the corrosive effects of runaway economic inequality, the natural product of capitalism. 

Understanding what took place in the US is important for Canadians.  The same forces that produced the Trump victory in 2016 are present in our Canada, and have been here for some time. 

Democracy in both our countries is being eroded, not by a conspiracy of some small group, but by an economic system focused on the wants and needs of capital that is fundamentally at odds with democracy.  The 5% who control that economy do not need to conspire – their key interests are simply the same and their power to influence enormous.

The dictatorship of Inequality

The foundation of the capital centered economy is one dollar-one vote in a world where 50% of the wealth is owned by 1% of the people, and the wealthiest 10% own 85%.  The bottom 50% of the world’s people own 9.4%.  In a capital centered economy 10% of the people have 85% of the votes. However, democracy is based on one person one vote.  Democracy and capitalism are at war and capitalism is winning. 

The 651 billionaires in the US and the 46 in Canada have significantly increased their wealth since 2010 and made spectacular gains during the pandemic.  The $185 billion owned by Canada’s billionaires and the $4.1 trillion owned by US billionaires gives them enormous economic, political and social power.  The companies they control give them far more power.

Just during the pandemic, Canadian billionaire’s wealth grew $53 billion while millions of Canadians lost their jobs, ran short of food, rent and suffered higher death rates.  In the United States, reeling from a runaway pandemic, “The total net worth of the nation’s 651 billionaires rose from $2.95 trillion on March 18—the rough start of the pandemic shutdowns—to $4.01 trillion on Dec. 7, a leap of 36%”.  (Based on an analysis of Forbes magazine’s research on billionaires.  https://inequality.org/great-divide/updates-billionaire-pandemic/ )

The global economy, while producing many new shiny toys for the more affluent of us to play with, is also eroding the environment and social cohesion.  The economy passes on the cost of massive environmental damage to 90% of people, especially the poorest 50%, and everyone’s children and grandchildren, while the profits of that damage go primarily to a very small percent every day.  The 1% live away from the environmental destruction and pollution they profit from while the 50% live in it.  Inequality is growing ever faster.  Future inequality will explode, engulfing future generations.

The bottom 70% have watched their dreams and their hopes for their children shrink.  Those under thirty see a future that, unless there is profound change, will offer them unstable gig work, runaway climate change, wild fires, floods, droughts, killer heat waves, shrinking supplies of clean water, crop failures.  They may well face the spectacle of a mass extinction of life forms and an economy and society in tatters. 

The 5%, with vast wealth to spend on lobbyists, political donations, ‘think tanks’, advertising and managerial and legal talent steer and corrupt governments with a mixture of cajoling and threats.  If government does not do what they want they will pull their capital out and throw hundreds of thousands out of work.  They want government to shrink and enter into trade deals that serve the interests of the 5%. They demand lower personal and corporate taxes that deeply shrink government services and replace government support for education and healthcare for example with the miserly gifts of charitable philanthropy.  Their gifts seem very large viewed by those with the annual incomes of the bottom 50%.  But those gifts, in the absence of adequate government funding, give the 5% more and more control over the content of education and over the science and healthcare experts who have become dependent on them.  The access to and decisions about education, healthcare and research go from being a public decision based on the needs of the society to a private decision based on the whims and wants of the richest 10%.

That enormous pool of wealth also funds racist organizations, anti-immigrant groups, bigotry promotion, climate denial, and anti-environmentalism.  The 5% also advertise in and fund media with contempt for truth and those stoking hatred (for example Fox media and Epoch Times) and far right wing economic theorists.  It is vital to the interests of the 1% that the 99% are as divided and as confused as possible.  Exon’s 30 years of lies about climate change were not an isolated incident but one of thousands of possible examples.

The decades of growing dysfunction of our capital dominated economy, political life and society has produced a justified growing distrust of democracy.  This was the powerful gift given to Donald Trump by decades of blind and sometimes corrupt leadership. 

He promised the 50% he would “drain the swamp”.  In spite of being clearly the worst part of the swamp, he persuaded them he was not even remotely near the swamp but instead the heroic crusader who would make America great again.  He blamed all problems on immigrants, Muslims and people of colour, stoking racist fears and religious divisions.  He told more than 30,000 documented lies and demonized the media when they documented his lies.  He slandered anyone who criticized him and he held the truth, evidence and facts in contempt.  He funneled vast amounts of wealth to the wealthiest while proclaiming his devotion to a large and increasingly angry population. 

The biggest error we can make is to blame his followers.  Yes, they believed the unbelievable, but decades of betrayal and lies have taught them not to trust politicians or democracy.  Inequality is not limited to incomes but also to access to government and to the courts.  When people in the bottom 70% cheat to avoid some small amount of taxes, they get nailed.  When the super-rich and their corporations dodge huge taxes or use tax havens, they are ignored, get their wrists slapped lightly or go to court or get the taxes reduced or tax laws changed.  Many tens of billions are tucked away without fuss in legal or illegal tax havens, but heaven help a Canadian CERB recipient who cheated a bit or made a legitimate error.

Democratic and Republican governments in the US and Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada have, at best, payed lip service to the problems of the bottom 70%, and at worst have simply sold them out while downplaying the reality of either environmental catastrophe or runaway inequality.  The claim that we have to choose between the economy and the environment is a smoke screen.  The real choice is between a serious plan to transform the economy over several decades into a green economic democracy, or fuel a path to environmental, economic and social disaster. 

We plowed the ground for Trump.  We made it easy for inept far right leaders like Kenny and Ford to dupe people.  Where will we be in four years?

How the Household Appliances of Capitalism Use You

When we built our new home 6 years ago we bought all new energy efficient appliances, all from Sears, all Kenmore.  A week ago while baking some custard, the stove, a Kenmore (but made by Frigidaire), started beeping and the panel on the Electronic Oven Control (EOC) started flashing “F10”.  We dug out the stove manual and after some digging found out that F10 meant “Runaway Temperature”.  The oven temperature had soared to over 500F while being set at 325F and the custards were small black volcanos.  We turned off power at the circuit breaker since nothing on the control panel responded to the touch controls.  With the power off, I removed the back panel behind the EOC and found it partly blackened from short circuits – it appeared more than one. 

We called a repair person, a very busy man who called back the next day.  He asked how old the stove was and when I told him 6 years he said we were luckier than most.  These EOC systems, he told us, often do not last more than 3 years.  He asked what model number so he could check whether or not they still made a replacement part, if any were available and what the cost would be.  The part cost, he said, usually ran between $300 and $500.  We gave him the information.  He called back after a few minutes to advise the part would cost $326 plus $48.74 tax = $374.74 plus installation.  An almost identical new stove the same size, made by Frigidaire (the company that made our Kenmore) would be $698.  The part for our six year old stove now costs 46.7% of the cost of an entire new stove. 

At our cottage, which we purchased in 1994, there is a stove that was 10-15 years old when we bought it, which makes it over 30 years old now.  Since 1994 we have only had to replace two stove top elements that cost about $25 each.  $50 over 30 years.  It is clear that the world has changed.  The changes made to stoves to make them “smart” are not anything necessary or of great value.  They are ‘frills’!  They add nothing to the essential usefulness of stoves.  Indeed we should fear them since they can allow the stove to turned on and be used when we are not at the home.  Worse they are likely to fail – not anything I would recommend given the determination of appliance manufacturers to provide appliances people cannot depend upon.  After the “runaway temperature” incident, we will not again leave the house with the stove on; in fact we will have to remain in a room close enough to the kitchen to hear if the alarm beeps!

I do a considerable amount of research on capitalism, the economic system which is steadily spiraling into chaos.  Some chaotic processes are slow, like climate change.  Others like accelerated obsolescence are galloping chaos.  The purpose of the few huge manufacturers, who produce for numerous competing brand names, is not to provide us with appliances, never mind safe reliable appliances.  Their purpose it is to maximize profits.  There is more profit to be made from selling new appliances.  Charging exorbitant prices for parts, and making them as hard to get as possible, is a reinforcing pressure to buy a new one.  People desperately need their appliances for keeping food from spoiling, for cooking it, and for washing and other necessities of daily life.  Most of the ‘exotic’ features, like being able to ‘phone your stove’, are really rather useless frills but increasingly it is difficult to find an appliance without them.  These features shorten the life of appliances.  For example the new stove I had to purchase because we had visitors arriving has sensors on each stove top element that shuts them off at 700F.   I suspect these burners will fail early and be expensive and hard to replace after the stove is only two or four years old.  Our stove at the cottage has cooked meals for more than thirty years without any of the so called ‘great improvements’ designed to fail and boost new stove sales.

On a recent CBC Marketplace episode on appliances, I felt sorry for the poor woman they interviewed, a paid employee of the appliance manufacturers, who had to weave and bob around the interviewer’s questions.  I am sure she is a decent person who loves her family and cares about her children and grandchildren.  She is likely a caring neighbor.  She was clearly articulate and intelligent.  It was painful to watch her reduced to mouthing weak, banal excuses and having to defend the indefensible.   At some level she must feel a deep rooted angst.  Many, many people are caught between earning a living and believing in the value of what they do for a living. 

Shop floor workers have to build what they know are shoddy products.  Managers are under pressure to make them produce as much as possible for as little as they can pay them with little regard for pollution or worker safety.  Industry apologists have to defend the indefensible.  They all undermine their self-respect acting on behalf of shareholders seeking maximum profit in the next quarter.  I suspect it is an underlying cause of much of the drug abuse and alcoholism and even suicide that are slowly growing in our societies.  Much work in our society is not fulfilling or ennobling, but demeaning.

Let’s nurture and assist worker owned businesses to produce basic reliable appliances and parts close to the people who need them.  Yes, we do need ‘right to repair’ laws, but we can do far more by building a better, more people centered economy, that will be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  Let’s require the corporations producing garbage appliances to take them back when they fail or cannot be repaired at a reasonable price and make them recycle every component.  If they had to absorb the cost of the garbage they produce, rather than to pass it along to society to pay, they would be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  If the appliances and their parts were made by worker owned companies close to the buyers and their communities, they would pay fairer salaries and provide needed benefits.  Starvation wages, exploited women and children workers, cheap unsafe working conditions, tax avoidance and seeking lax or non-existent environmental protection are key standard tools of investor owned firms to maximize profits.   

As with so many increasingly urgent issues in our investor driven economy, the appliance mess is not an aberration but a standard, logical outcome of capitalism.  Just one more part of chaos capitalism.

Can We Change Our World? Atautsikut/ Leave None Behind, Says YES

I am often bemused by people who respond to my critiques of capitalism and promotion of co-operatives by gently, and sometimes not so gently, saying, “But you know that is not possibly going to happen.”  Or they say, “There is no alternative to capitalism.”   Imagine an indigenous group for whom the government’s objective was to have them disappear.  A group faced with the power of a mega corporation that dominated their communities.  Imagine them saying not just ‘we can do better and change this reality but we can do so in a way that leaves no one behind’

If you believe we cannot change our world, watch this film by John Houston![1] Aliva Tulugak, past president of the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec used these words to describe the film.

 “I believe what you have filmed will be important for our grandchildren and our children.  Back when there was nothing in all of Nunavik… those who came before us, those who founded the co-operatives and the Federation… they started out with nothing but their determination.”  His words are important words for people around the globe to hear. 

The free world premiere of the film will take place Sat. July 4 at 11:00 AM Atlantic Time and is available to all the world in English at https://youtu.be/gh3abENu-S8 .  The message of this film is important to my grandchildren and grandchildren around the world.  To believe we cannot stop organizing human life and the entire natural world to serve capital is to proclaim capital is ‘god’.  It is to say we accept that run away climate change must happen.  It is to voice the belief that a billion people must go hungry even as we waste enough food to feed them each day.  It is to say it is acceptable that the super-rich, the top 1%, get richer and richer while the rest of humanity falls farther and farther behind.  It is to claim that it is impossible for healthcare, education, decent housing and food to be available for every child in the world.  It is to be in favour of the CEO of a large corporation being paid $2,284,044,884 (yes more than two billion dollars) in annual compensation, but many essential workers who keep us safe cannot be paid more than a minimum wage or be hired full time so they could receive benefits. 

“A marginalized people rose up from humble beginnings, with nothing but their talent, their guiding principles, and their determination to leave none behind. The public has heard so many sad stories, but “Atautsikut/Leaving None Behind” reveals another aspect of the true North. In their own words, raw and unfiltered, the Nunavik Inuit and Cree recount their struggle and how their co-ops came shining through—a message of hope.”

We owe our grandchildren more than the deep pessimism that says, ‘we have no alternative’.  We owe them more than the foolish optimism that says, ‘Things will get better,’ even while we watch climate change gathering strength and the wealth of billionaires sky rocket during the pandemic.  We owe it to them to act with the courage of the Inuit and Cree who survived government attempts to eliminate them, and the exploitation of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  We owe it to them to be ‘hopefulists’ and activists!


[1] For other films by John Houston see: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQO9G6cdq96ByCJwQ_DKo_g/

Black Lives are Sacred – Change the Culture – Part 2

In Part One I reflected on the links and roots of racism in the capitalism that benefits from it.  But, why are our governments seemingly unable to deal with racism and the inequality that is linked to it?   They are faced with 1% of the world’s people owning more than 50% of the world’s wealth.  Governments function under the pressure of capitalism.  Why do our governments turn a blind eye to racism and inequality?  Most ‘democratic’ governments have become ‘quasi democracies’ where the real power lies with the powerful bullying wealthiest 10%.  If we do not serve them they will hurt us.  They will destroy jobs and disrupt lives and communities.  .  For the richest 10% it will be a minor inconvenience, one they can endure and recover from.   Between March and the end of May, while millions lost their sources of income, billionaires in the US increased their wealth by 19.2%

1.1% of US billionaires are black.  In Canada there are no black billionaires but we do have a billionaire descended from indigenous people.   The US has 585 billionaires, Canada 45.  Ending racism is not a high priority for the almost entirely white 10%.  Surely we will look at the bullying power and the luxurious life of the few beside the poverty, suffering and powerlessness of the many and ask ‘can we allow this modern form of slavery to continue?’  Why are black, brown and indigenous people, women, healthcare workers, janitors and so many essential workers so poorly paid?   Why are so few of them in the bodies where decisions are made?  

I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Optimists tend to believe all will be well no matter what.  Pessimists see a desperate future.  I am a ‘hopefulist’.  One who hopes we will begin to recognize the madness and self-destruction of capitalism and the racism, inequality and climate catastrophe it is brewing.  I hope we can have the courage to rein in the greed that fuels it and build a different economy.  It is possible to imagine another reality.  Three of my wonderful children are black as are eight of my grandchildren.   They drive my hope.

Can we imagine another reality?  Is capitalist culture an expression of the dominant trait of human beings or is it a reality humanity has been duped into?  Is it the inevitable expression of human progress or is it something we have been seduced to accept as capitalism slowly normalized evil.  What happens when societies face catastrophes?   They pull together.  Beautiful acts of kindness emerge by the millions as we take care of each other.  Sure, a few mean actions emerge, but the vast majority pitch in to help each other and then go out on their balconies to sing, play music and bang pots and pans for joy to celebrate the kindness.  That is how all but a tiny minority of humanity spontaneously responds to catastrophes and pandemics.

How did people react when George Floyd was tortured and murdered?  Around the world millions of people took to the streets in, almost without exception, peaceful anger.  Black people and white people and brown people, indigenous people, people of all faiths.  Young people and old people.  This is the heart beat of humanity that self-centered capitalism has put its knee on.   Imagine a culture which celebrated the needs of people and communities being met rather than celebrating the greed of billionaires.  Imagine a culture that rejoiced more over acts of caring and compassion rather than hoarding and exploiting.  Imagine a culture in which the inborn inclinations of the 99% dominated the self centered desire of the 1%.

Imagine a society organized around people rather than money and the understanding that we are part of nature and that to be fully human we must love and respect nature and each other.  Imagine a society organized to work together to meet its needs.  Imagine a society where altruism and caring for each other, as most people do in times of crisis, were seen as far more important than wealth, competition and self centered action.  Imagine if we really learned from Darwin that co-operation among cells and species and within species was a more effective winning strategy than competition.  Imagine a world where humans saw co-operative winning as a better outcome than competitive efforts that produce few winners and many losers.  Imagine a society where our children and grandchildren would be judged as Martin Luther King so eloquently hoped, by the beauty of their character rather than the colour of their skin.

There is an alternative economy and culture possible.  Worker co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, producer, community and small business co-operatives all draw on the best of human nature.  Voting control is based on one person one vote rather than one dollar one vote.  Their purpose is to meet member and community need rather than maximizing return to the wealthy shareholders.

Are co-operatives perfect?  No they are human.  A worker co-operative may exploit consumers.  A consumer co-operative can exploit workers.  Farm co-operatives can exploit both.  They exploit less often but it does happen.  A solidarity co-operative, where the key people involved are all members and involved in decision making, makes exploitation even less of a problem.  An elder care co-operative, for example, would have residents, workers and family members engaged in membership meetings and electing the board with representatives of each group.  There are hundreds of these co-operatives in Europe and a growing number in Canada.

With capitalism, the 1% are at the table leaving the 99% to do their best to gather what scraps fall or are thrown to them.  We need a society where not only white people but black, brown, indigenous, people with accents and those of all beliefs are working together in structures that gather them at the table, involved in decision making and sharing the benefits of their work rather than scrapping for crumbs.

Co-operation requires a cultural shift.  Immersed in and forced to interact with a capitalist culture that is mindlessly individualistic and just ‘focused on me’ hinders, warps and limits co-operation.  We need to grow and nurture the spirit of ‘let us work together on this’ that has always been strong in human society.  We need public policy that rewards co-operation and inhibits and discourages the cult of the selfish individual.  Co-operation’s strength flows from the reality we are truly both individual and social.   They are two sides of each of us.  We cannot separate our individuality from our social nature.  Co-operation not only allows both, it celebrates both, and gathers all around the table not based on their wealth but on their shared humanity.

We have a choice to make, between going back to a normal capitalist economy, or setting in motion a fair green democratic economy.  What will we do?

Black Lives Are Sacred- Change the culture – Part 1

The image of a police officer torturing and executing a black man in Minneapolis was horrifying.  It was not the first, and regrettably will not likely be the last, in spite of the outrage it generated.  Most similar killings in Canada are not caught on video.  Life is sacred.  Black lives are sacred.  Why do our police forces act as if black and indigenous lives don’t matter as much?

As with many festering problems in our societies (and I include Canada which is different but similar) a big part of the heart of the problem is capitalist culture.  Racism could only endure for hundreds of years because it remains a deeply held part of our culture.

  The wealth of Canada and the US was born in slavery and the theft of indigenous lands.  Both slavery and seizing indigenous land required deep cultural beliefs that were racist.  Justifying evil actions can only take place by building cultural myths that excuse them, and a huge part of those cultural beliefs rest on the claim that enslaved and indigenous people are inferior.  Those beliefs are compounded by our capitalism built on the foundation of slavery, land theft and colonialism.

If you:

  • organize society and the use of nature around serving capital,
  • sanctify the growth of capital measured by GDP,
  • define freedom as the absolute right to accumulate capital, and finally,
  • combine that with the belief that people always act in their own self-interest, (with greed as a driver of ‘progress’),

………. Do not expect a good outcome.  

Capitalism is a system where the highest good is the growth of capital, not the wellbeing of people.  People are to be used, and where possible exploited, in the service of capital.  Racism and sexism simply makes the use of some people more profitable.  It is the only reasonable explanation for why racial minorities and women are paid less.  In a capitalist culture these ideas are accepted as the ‘realistic normal’ and ‘above question’.  Racism is part of the capitalist normal.  Part of the white population is also exploited in the pursuit of profit.  Racism helps channel the rage and despair of poor exploited whites toward black and racialized groups rather than against billionaires.  Think Trump.

The destructive outcome is deepened by the common capitalist belief that people are wealthy because they deserve it and the poor are poor by their own fault.  The job of the police in such a society is to protect the wealth, especially that of the wealthiest, from the needs of other 90%, especially those who are inferior and who claim a fair share they do not deserve. 

The culture of racism is amplified because a small percentage of those attracted to police work are wounded, insecure and angry bullies for whom walking around with a gun and a night stick is not a form of self-protection but a threat.  In some police forces, this threatening minority is seen as ‘the effective, tough officers, the leaders we need’.   Our society further compounds this by the almost universal exoneration of any police officer guilty of excessive force, brutality or murder.   We must not confuse our duty to protect those who sometimes risk their lives to protect us with a grant of freedom to do violence with automatic exoneration.    These exonerations do not protect police, they simply generate fear and distrust among the people they are commissioned to serve and put all police at greater risk. 

Millions of people on June 1 saw a woman kneeling in the street, with her hands in front of her face, getting kicked in the face by an approaching officer.  Will this brutal act be punished?  Not likely, but it is in the real interest of every ‘peace officer’ that it is indeed punished.

I was deeply moved by the account of one police leader who went to the demonstrators and told them he was there to be with them and joined the demonstration.  In another brief video clip a white officer spoke gently and put his arms around a black man overcome with grief to comfort him.  In yet another, a group of National Guard members went down on one knee in solidarity.  These were ‘peace officers’.  This is what we need rather than the hatred and violence spewing out of the White House which poisons the US, Canada and the world.  One can only hope that more and more peace officers and military officers and public servants will simply respond to orders to be racist, violent, cruel and do evil on behalf of the White House with the word “No”. 

The timidity of our government, cowering inside our houses of Parliament, lacking the courage to stand up to bullying and cruelty or call a lie a lie, is not anything to admire.  Canada and the US are neighbors and need to a nurture friendly relationship.  Alas, we are too afraid of what their government might do.  Our response to evil actions should not be strained silence or mimic the threatening bluster of the bully.  It needs to be a quiet, clear and respectful ‘no’, whenever possible coordinated with other like-minded nations.  Force, violence and intimidation are the tools of bullies.  Cowering empowers billionaire bullies and leaves their racism unchallenged.   We too must learn to say “no” to racism and all other evil.

Part 2 to follow