Difficult decisions by others usually means more pain for us
While the appointment of a highly qualified woman to chair the economic recovery team is very welcome, I am somewhat wary of the establishment background that Dame Moya Greene brings to the task (“Meet the woman tasked with helping chart Newfoundland and Labrador's fiscal recovery,” Sept. 5, The Telegram.)Greene’s history with Transport Canada, TD Securities, Canada Post and the U.K’s Royal Mail all suggest a high level of comfort with neo-liberalism, the market-oriented policy framework that typically embraces deregulation, privatization and austerity.
In recent decades, neo-liberalism — formerly termed neo-conservatism — has largely taken over in political circles, shaping government policies for the worse without our even being aware of it.
Classic neo-liberal approaches include bottom-line corporatism, privatization and public-private partnerships (P3s) — all core aspects of Greene’s professional record.
The be-all and end-all of the neo-liberal management credo is “efficiency,” and Greene apparently buys into it lock, stock and barrel.The important thing, she says, is to ask: “Is the corporation efficient?”
But “efficient” for what purpose?
Businesses exist to maximize profit, and efficiency can help.
Public services, however — health care, schools, the post office — exist to serve the public, and profit-oriented efficiency often contradicts that purpose.
Moreover, as John Ralston Saul has pointed out, efficiency and democracy don’t go together well. Democracy, he says, “is intended to be inefficient.”
As for privatization, Greene claims that what matters is not “who owns the shares” but whether or not the corporation is efficient.
Again, though, efficient for what purpose?
During COVID-19, profit-motivated cost-cutting by privately owned long-term care homes in other provinces sacrificed people’s lives on the altar of efficiency.
Eugene Forsey — the late trade unionist, constitutional expert, senator, Newfoundlander, and my father — described privatization as “the biggest international romp ever mounted by the rich for skinning the poor.”
In a 1980 article in Macleans magazine, he wrote: “Neo-conservatism, of which privatization is the first instalment … is just a slick, high-falutin’ synonym for something very far from ‘neo’ and much closer to the very old ‘Every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost.’”
When the powerful warn of “painful and difficult” decisions to come, it tends to indicate that the outcomes will indeed be painful for us as citizens, especially for those already struggling to make ends meet or cope with sexism and racism.
While political consequences may make things difficult for the decision-makers, the actual pain will likely be reserved for the rest of us.