Crowley locked up in absolutes

I haven’t read Brian Lee Crowley’s new book – it just comes out in bookstores this week – but the reviews tell of a “courageous book”.  Here’s the summary taken from the G&M:

In the 1960s, Canada began a seismic shift away from the core policies and values upon which the country had been built. A nation of “makers” transformed itself into a nation of “takers.” Crowley argues that the time has come for the pendulum to swing back—back to a time when Canadians were less willing to rely on the state for support; when people went where the work was rather than waiting for the work to come to them. Thought-provoking, meticulously detailed and ultimately polarizing, Fearful Symmetry is required reading for anyone who is interested in where this country began, where it’s been, and where it’s going. “Founder of the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Brian Lee Crowley has written a courageous book with absolutely unique analysis and interpretation. Part lament, part celebration, Fearful Symmetry is most of all a profoundly optimistic book. Why? Rush to read it as soon as you can. ” – Globe and Mail .

Wrapped up in Crowley’s thinking is a grain of truth.   But his attacks always end up blaming the system while never really proffering any solutions.  Crowley used to advocate that Atl. Canada become a laissez-faire region within Canada without ever saying how this could possibly work. Now he advocates that Canada become a laissez-faire country without ever saying how this could possibly work. 

We cannot unilaterally disarm.   That’s what Crowley doesn’t seem to understand.  We live in a globalized world.  If every country agreed not to bail out the auto sector, that would be fine.  Then the auto sector would have to figure it out.  But if virtually every other country bails out the auto sector and Canada doesn’t – and loses the jobs – what did we gain?  If Atlantic Canada says we will forgo giving grants and loans – while the provincial government and the Feds pile on billions in Ontario – how is that to the benefit of Atl. Canada?  I could go on but I think the point stands. 

And as for that crack about people waiting for the work to come to them, again there is a grain of truth but there has been a steady stream of workers out of New Brunswick for 140 years – with little interruption.  Those that are remaining and clinging to their seasonal jobs in the fishery are a hold out.  Hundreds of thousands of New Brunswickers have left this province for work over the past 100 years.  We are now in a string of 15 straight years of net out-migration.  The idea that everyone is waiting for the work to come here, is a Crowley fantasy.

The last point here and then I will stop.  Canada is far less ‘socialized’ today than it was even 30 years ago.  Back then governments owned coal mines, oil companies, telecommunications firms, and a whole list of other parts of the economy.  I don’t have the numbers in front of me but the government share of GDP has been steadily going down for the past 15-20 years.  I suspect this year it will turn upward but there was a time when the government in Canada was something like 35% of the national economy.

It’s almost like Crowley is locked in time – back to when he first read Hayek, Bastiat and Von Mises.

A long time ago, the famous American Socialist John Dewey drew this final conclusion about Leon Trotsky: “He was tragic.  To see such brilliant native intelligence locked up in absolutes.”

I think that applies to Brian Lee Crowley.  He is smart.  He even has a unique and interesting set of ideas that have merit but that must be filtered through the context of the real world.  But he is so locked up in absolutes that he will end up appealing to a fringe group rather than playing a real legitimate role in the public square of ideas.

13 thoughts on “Crowley locked up in absolutes

  1. Its all about money, David. There is as much, if not more, money in the ‘laissez-faire’ industry as there is in the climate change denier industry. The fringe groups you refer to have bags of money – and they spend a good chunk of that money supporting people and orgs that provide arguments in favor of this nonsense.

  2. Maybe he is talking about Ontario! They are the ones who now want the old Maritime UI, so they don’t have to move. And we are talking, now, a lot of people. But having lived through it and in various ways, I would guess, there wasn’t too many things a maritimer couldn’t scam. Remember Maritimers used to get a good education. Many of those educators are still talked about 50 and 60 years later. But of course all this required politician help! The things that some people could tell you, would make a great book!

  3. I’d disagree, I haven’t EVER seen anything remotely interesting from Crowley. As mentioned, this is a book that should have come out a decade ago when David Frum, Rush Limbough, etc., were all peddling their pedagogic fantasies. Today, the most successful economies are well recognized-Norway, Sweden, Switzerland. Virtually all the success stories are coming from countries and regions with a heavy reliance on the state. Crowley is simply delusional, but thats what happens when Irving is filling your bank account. A similar thing was going on Great Britain, when an MP said that Scotland should be reserved simply as a destination for tourists. That really woke up the scots and now they are far more vocal than ever.

    But I get a kick out of ‘what built this country’. That always seems to be a nostalgic point of pride for some odd reason. Let’s see, our ancestors came and took the land, worked for almost no pay and usually died young from working conditions. Then the feds took over and trade policies wiped out most industry. The past is nothing to be hearkened to, Crowley is simply playing defense, because it was in the sixties that Canada became a truly progressive country that paid at least SOME attention to the workers and citizens of the country. Hopefully we can get some centarians to write a book about what it was like BEFORE that. I have one anecdote, my uncle had a disease, I forget which one, but my father had to take him to and from school each day, and when he finally died the family spent 30 years paying off the medical bills.

    That’s what life WAS like. Crowley always forgets that the ‘making’ is not being done by some foreign corporation who thinks its getting the shaft. Its canadians who are working and earning the money that supports other canadians. And again, anybody that thinks welfare or EI is a gift, has obviously never had to collect. Let’s hope some day Crowley has to, I’ve had friends with similar views to him, you can argue forever, but suddenly finding themselves without a job usually is what turns them around. Oh yeah, Crowley now has a GOVERNMENT job!

  4. When policies and priorities have focused on developing the economies of vote-rich Quebec and Ontario, you can’t stop all of a sudden and withdraw all support unless you repair the damage that was done.

    As Savoie points out, Atlantic Canada was the proposerous region until Federal polcies and programs were directed at vote-rich central Canada. I’d support AIMS’ ideas of government staying out of business but only after repairs are made to the wounds that were created in our region. David’s report about a year ago of Harper providing $50M to a Windsor engine plant to research fuel efficiency then hopping on the government jet to announce $50K for renovations to a hockey rink in the ‘chi is a perfect example of the treatment Atlantic Canada has been receiving.

  5. Crap upon crap. Where else but in NB can you read 1000’s of articles, avoiding the real problem, a 40 year old guaranteed to fail ideology?
    Who would of believed 50 years ago, how backward the Country would go. It actually was a great time, with only visions of better and better things, and there were, for a while, we boomed, traveled , happy,and mainly everybody got along and then the slow rot of capitulation started. We will never see the great future of the 60’s again! Very sad, for our Children.

    Industry, educators get together to guide students to potential careers

    New Brunswick’s education system needs to do a better job of giving young people the basic skills they need to start a new career and the Southeast New Brunswick Education and Industry Council will make that a priority, the president of Mount Allison University said yesterday.

    Enlarge Photo GREG AGNEW/TIMES & TRANSCRIPTDr. Robert Campbell, president of Mount Allison University and co-chair of the Southeast New Brunswick Education and Industry Council, chats with council members Neil Boucher after the unveiling of a branding and logo campaign yesterday. “Every sector that we’ve been talking to has said that we need to do better work on providing students with essential skills, everything from reading and writing, being able to do a good report, group work, working in teams, how to deal with customers and how to deal with clients,” Dr. Robert Campbell said yesterday.

    Campbell is co-chairman of the recently-formed

  6. I suspect thats the old ‘bilingualism’ ideology, and we’ve already discredited that thoroughly. Maine also has very similar economic problems to NB and bilingualism isn’t even an issue there, ditto for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

    However, education is very much an issue. If readers get the chance they should research the Swiss educational system. Granted there are lots of them,because they are very decentralized, but technical skills are integrated into the curruculum. I’ve recently started paying attention to the logo ‘swiss made’ and its now virtually everywhere-chocolate, watches, knives, water, binoculars, telescopes, clocks and appliances are the signs I’ve seen in just the last three weeks. If you’ve travelled abroad, have a look around and see what canadian products are advertised as ‘canadian made’. Maple syrup is about it. Try to even imagine what products COULD be labelled.

    And by the way, in Switzerland they learn at least two languages, most of them know three as the country is trilingual, even quatralingual in many areas (three official languages, plus romani, and that doesn’t even include the fact that most people know english-which ISN”T an official language).

    The problem is not ‘the welfare state’, the problem is a ‘centralized welfare state’, although it should be noted that while switzerland has almost full employment and a direct democracy, it does not have ‘public health insurance’, because if you have a regulated private health care industry and everybody works, then its not an issue.

    It should be added though that with an excellent public infrastructure, there isn’t really the manic phobia about the idea of ‘moving to work’. Not a lot of miramichiers were complaining loudly when they boarded a plane to fly to work. And to be honest, I think even David discussed the idea that rural regions act as a ‘feeder’ to industrial cities. So IF there were a great public transportation system, it might be such an issue. And IF it were possible to simply work in Quebec but live elsewhere, but they make that very difficult. So there’s definitely more than one issue there, which justifies the thousands of articles. If NB got rid of bilingualism tomorrow it would make no difference-there was outmigration in the forties and fifties too. Things were FAR from great for a certain percentage of the population, but no doubt the anglo people who ran Fredericton were very happy, as majorities usually are.

  7. “…back to a time when Canadians were less willing to rely on the state for support; when people went where the work was rather than waiting for the work to come to them.”

    This country was built by the CPR, which linked the Pacific and Prairies to Upper and Lower Canada. The CPR was built through massive subsidies from the federal government. The state bankrolled the railway, and thus tied the nation together. Further, the industrial base of the nation was built through massive federal intervention during the second world war.

    I don’t know where this fantasy of a laissez-faire Canada comes from. We’ve always been a state where the central government plays a large part in the economy. Calling back to a fictional past to argue for further economic deregulation and lower social spending is a weak argument.

    Further to Norway, how does the Alberta Advantage compare to the Norweigan economy today? Norway has built up a massive rainy day fund due to oil royalties, while Alberta is mired once again in deficit. The heavy state involvement of the government in mineral wealth doesn’t look so badly when we see it done right.

  8. ” fantasy of a laissez-faire Canada comes from”

    Its propaganda, pure and simple. The goal is to create a mythical past and a mythical present. This strategy of right-wing crank tanks has been hugely successful in the US and the approach has been imported by AIMS, Fraser, Frontier et al. Data don’t matter; facts don’t matter – just repeat the BS long enough and loud enough, make sure your talking points get repeated in the press ad nauseum and you set the stage for victory. The argument might be ‘weak’ but that hardly matters if it is the argument one hears everyday – it has become the conversation, the self-evident truth.

  9. Crowley looks fondly to pre-1960’s Canada, when we didn’t have to pay taxes for such extravagances as… hmmm… oh yeah, universal healthcare.

    Let’s be very careful about validating such fondness for bygone times of fictional prosperity. The parts he doesn’t talk about are at least as important to the story as the parts he does mention.

  10. Crowley looks fondly to pre-1960’s Canada, when we didn’t have to pay taxes for such extravagances as… hmmm… oh yeah, universal healthcare.

    Let’s be very careful about validating such fondness for bygone times of fictional prosperity. The parts he doesn’t talk about are at least as important to the story as the parts he does mention.

  11. Brian Lee Crowley: The bidding war for Quebecers
    Posted: September 18, 2009, 10:15 AM by NP Editor
    Canadian politics, Brian Lee Crowley
    Nationalist movements quickly make a link between national virtue and social policy, especially when the nationalism is that of a national minority, whether the Quebecois or Basques or Scots.

    At last! Someone to tell it like it is,was!

    Thus Quebec was able, to choose just a few examples, to get disproportionate funding for integration of immigrants, it promoted vast expansion of the equalization program of which it is by far the largest beneficiary in absolute terms, it got large transfers of tax points not available to other provinces in the Sixties and more recently it got Ottawa to pony up impressive new transfers to the provinces as a result of a fictitious but politically astute claim that a “fiscal imbalance” existed that allegedly favoured Ottawa at the provinces’ expense. This struggle for extra resources for the province was carried on equally aggressively and equally successfully by both federalist and separatist governments in the province. And the other provinces merely sat bemusedly by on the sidelines, looked on admiringly and waited for the booty won by Quebec from a frightened Ottawa to be spread, by the logic of federalism, to all and sundry. Michael Bliss observed, “All of the provinces speedily developed an appetite for being treated like independent principalities, their premiers like princes. Ottawa appeared to be dealing from weakness, not strength, and sharp-witted provincial politicians were happy to rake in the chips.”

    It mattered not that there was a wide consensus that Quebec actually did little that was all that distinctive with the social policy levers it controlled: What was crucial was the symbolic positioning of Ottawa as the stumbling block to a more just future.

  12. To be honest, I’m optimistic that we as NBers (well, Shawn Graham’s gov’t) have positioned ourselves well for the future, especially the day when we fully come out of this recession. That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges left to tackle, there are many!

    For instance, if they can either dismantle BNB and the enterprise system altogether to allow the market to correct itself through private sector growth (or at least implement some serious change), we may be in for some good “true” economic times. Although, this will only happen if they commit to no new spending, no more useless task forces and expensive “red herring” studies (shutting the door on the consultant connection to the public sector gravy train) and a firm stance to reduce the overall size of government while increasing certain budgetary transfers to agencies that promote democracy, transparency and fiscal responsibility (two examples: a complete overall of the Access-to-Info Act and more money to the Auditor General).

    Anyway, that is my 2 cents for what it is worth. And always has been. (hint, hint to the commenter in the TJ today)

  13. I’d like to see WHERE that optimism comes from. NB has an aging population, low workforce, heavy reliance on social programs and the federal government. It’s been admitted that educational policy is a real failure, there are more and more kids with disabilities in the system.

    Those factors haven’t changed since ten years into confederation, but now the thinking is that the province is set up for the future? Not to put a fine point on it, but are you crazy? What policies has Graham set up? I’ve read through virtually all the legislation and read all the posts from communications nb, and believe me, contrary to what people see here, I’m an optimist! But I’ve never seen a government do so little for a province. First off, we’ve got a return to deficits, with an ever increasing debt. That means that in the future when the recession is over and interest rates again go higher, that more of your tax dollars will go to service the debt and not be available for services.

    Essential services are already crumbling, just go look at a nursing home. Even energy policy has been aimed at selling to the US, nobody has ever said that hydro will go down once Lepreau is finally finished.

    Public sector growth is the ONLY growth that has taken place in the province, and apart from selling beer, the province hasn’t encroached on private sector territory. Anybody is free to set up shop in NB and take advantage of the low tax rates.

    So, after over a hundred years of outmigration and under performance, what exactly has the Graham government done to position the province? (if you discount the similarities with Bernard Lord you really only get one-which is ‘maybe’ Lepreau).

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