Garbage Politics

garbage 2You have to give it to conservatives — they know how to manipulate people. Economic “laissez-faire” elitist conservatives, the scions of the old robber barons, have learned to play the social conservatives, the fearful and resentful anti-city farmers, and the isolated, harried, anti-government suburbanites. Cobble them together and you have close to 50% of Americans and 30% of Canadians, enough in both countries to elect a conservative government.

The last conservative provincial government stuck it to the city of Toronto (which had the audacity to vote overwhelmingly against them) by downloading responsibility for a lot of services to the municipalities, while not downloading any of the related tax revenues. The current Liberal provincial government, unpopular for its ineptness and arrogance, is up against a conservative opposition again in an election in two months, and is not willing to rectify the inequity because they want the suburban vote, and have already conceded the Toronto urban vote to the left-leaning NDP.

As a result, the NDP-dominated City of Toronto municipal government is now essentially bankrupt. The mayor has pleaded and threatened, and now must use its new municipal taxing authority to jack up taxes while also cutting back services.

The conservatives love watching them squirm. Their answer, in a classic manipulation, is to argue that the city administration is bloated, and that salaries should be slashed, staff put on work-share programs (where they’d only work, and be paid for, four days a week, but still expected to get the same amount of work done). And of course, that all the ‘inefficient’ government services be ‘privatized’.

Their favourite whipping boy is garbage collection. If you work in this profession long enough, you can earn $24/hour, or about $47,000 per year. This isn’t enough to live on in Toronto, where even tiny run-down houses cost over $300,000. Nevertheless, economic conservatives, most of whom probably earn between two and ten times that amount, for office work that many would suggest is worth less than the work of trash collectors, scream that these salaries are outrageous. Their friends in private industry, they insist, could get desperate immigrants who don’t speak English and don’t know their employment rights to do the same work for half that wage, allowing a nice profit for the private company and big savings to the government.

Of course, those workers only hang around until they wise up, go bankrupt, starve, return to their native country, or find something that pays a living wage (like theft, smuggling or selling drugs). So the turnover at the private contractor’s is enormous, and the quality and reliability of the service atrocious. And the laid-off garbage collectors go on welfare or unemployment insurance (which the government and taxpayers pay for anyway), and find something else that pays a living wage (like theft, smuggling or selling drugs).

The net effect of this ‘privatization’ is dislocation and other social problems, worse service, and higher costs to the taxpayer. But the conservatives, who know this full well, won’t admit it, because they can flog this lie to whip up anti-government sentiment and get elected on a ‘lower taxes’ platform. In the economic conservative suburbs, this works like a charm.

Meanwhile, the farmers, the social conservatives’ political base, are struggling with low commodity prices (thanks to the economic conservative elites’ big agriculture oligopoly control of market prices) and rising oil costs. Their only hope is to make a profit from suburban sprawl onto their land, to take the money and run further from the city where prices are cheaper, and wait for the sprawl to reach them again. Most wealthy Torontonians and suburbanites made their fortunes in real estate development and land speculation (developers’ and speculators’ campaign contributions comprise an astonishing 95% of all elected municipal politicians’ campaign funds). The farmers want their turn. The Liberals and the NDP want land frozen for agriculture, and they want greenbelt areas with no development.

So the conservatives alone support the farmers in their desire to make a killing selling their land for subdivision and suburban sprawl. Of course, manipulative to a fault, they don’t quite put it that way — they say that farmers should be “fully compensated” if they’re not permitted to make a killing on their property, in other words that the government (the taxpayers) should pay the farmers ten times the current agricultural value of their property to go on farming it. The result would be a draining of government coffers to make some millionaires who would have no motivation to continue farming or invest in their farms. They would likely subcontract the farms to subsistence farmers or factory farming corporations. Not surprisingly, the conservatives are popular in rural areas for this policy.

So this October, we are likely to have another conservative provincial government, because just over a third of the voters (mostly in the suburbs and rural areas) will support the conservatives, and the Liberals and NDP will split the rest of the vote. It’s the same motley coalition that elected Bush, and Canadian minority PM Harper.

It’s garbage politics, but it works. The really sad thing is that, when the people get fed up with the execrable conservative governments that these perverse coalitions produce, they tend to rally around the alternative (for the US Democrats or the Canadian Liberals) that is least to the left of the conservatives, because they perceive that this is the alternative that is most likely, one-on-one, to defeat theconservatives.

So we have a choice between arch-right-wing or right-leaning middle-of-the-road (the two Clintons, Obama). True progressives need not apply.


This entry was posted in How the World Really Works. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Garbage Politics

  1. Paul Justus says:

    It is significant that “developers’ and speculators’ campaign contributions comprise an astonishing 95% of all elected municipal politicians’ campaign funds”. Of course, the political economist Henry George saw this when he ran for mayor of New York City and called for a single “Land Value Tax” to deflate the speculative cost of land. Today a “Green Revenue Shift” would do likewise along with user fees on pollution and mineral extraction. Only until we as a planet capture the Environmental Costs in our price system will we be on the road to saving ourselves. Also, if everyone gets their fair “Earthshare” of this revenue, then wages would have to rise to a certain livable level.The “Green Revenue Shift”, properly applied, would bring about more Justice, more Ecological Sustainability, and, very interestingly, authentic free market enterprise. This would be good for the small business-person. A number of us “Green Revenue Shifters” see the importance of this. The big question is how do we get here from there?

  2. John Powers says:

    I was a garbage collector for a few days. That job really sucks! But I’ll quibble that “theft, smuggling or selling drugs” pay a living wage. Lots of people are garbage collectors for the long haul. Recently I was talking with a friend who’s a hot stick lineman. He was full of blue-collar rage that night. I brought up the that real change was made by the non-violent agitation of the Civil Rights era. He was quick to point out that while he felt like shooting someone, he most certainly wouldn’t. I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago about James Farmer, a civil rights leader who helped to bring Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the movement. A young Kenyan commented to that post that he struggled as a youth with the relative merits of violence and non-violence. But the important thing for him as an adult was through a book on Martin Luther King, Jr. he was introduced to the idea of satyagraha. He translated it as “passive-resistance” but I like how back in the days satyagraha was rendered as “soul force.” It’s not an easy idea, and the intellectual foundations of the American Civil Rights movement shouldn’t be forgotten. Today a new incarnation of “soul force” seems the what can help us break through. Electoral politics and the politics of policy matter, but as in the Civil Rights era, those are just part of the larger struggle.

Comments are closed.