THE BLOG

Technocrats and the Assault on Common Sense and Civilized Society

10/01/2013 12:13 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Technocrats, argues John Ralston Saul in his book Voltaire's Bastards, have a narrow band of intelligence which is divorced from reality, from common sense, and from morality. Technocrats love power, they are obsessed with structure, and they believe in certain "absolute truths." This is their downfall in the real world which has its own logic.

The economic theory of neoliberalism, for example, is seen as an absolute truth, even when hallmarks of the theory, such as unregulated financial speculation, create market crashes that tear at the fabric of civilized society. Everything can be rationalized by technocrats, though, whose world-view does not include common sense.

Since the 1980s, with the "liberalization/deregulation" of markets (neoliberalism), stock market speculation has become more important than investing in "enterprises" such as manufacturing, trains, canals and so on. Even worse, financial firms such as Goldman Sachs speculate on commodities, such as food, for profit. Consequently, short-term shareholder profits can raise food prices and contribute to food scarcity for millions. At the very least, speculation in food commodities should be illegal.

The legislation which was crafted over the years to legalize trading such as commodities, derivatives and hedge funds is responsible in large part for the crash of the financial system in 2008, yet it still has not been altered significantly. As a start, a Financial Transaction Tax/Robin Hood Tax would help to regulate speculative market transactions. This tax is gaining widespread approval in Europe, but of course it isn't being considered in Canada.

The assault on the public, social sphere, including pensions and hospitals, also lacks common sense, (as well as economic sense).

According to "Losing Ground" by Keith Ambachstsheer and Rob Bauer, as referenced in Chapter 6 of Bruce Livesey's Thieves of Bay Street, the corporatization of pension plans basically penalizes the 99 per cent, while serving the short term interests of the 1 per cent.

The University of Toronto's Rotman International Centre for Pension Management notes that "Pension plans generate more returns for investors than mutual funds -- 3.8 per cent more on average." One reason for improved earnings by pension plans is that mutual funds charge such high fees, especially in Canada. This means that the Harper Government's Pooled Registered Pension Plans, to be run by banks, mutual funds, and the insurance industry, will be a disservice to retirees.

Public-private financing schemes are also a rip-off for the public. A study of 28 Ontario P3 projects worth over $7 billion found that P3s cost, on average, 16 per cent more than conventionally run projects. One reason for this is that corporate borrowers pay higher interest rates than their government counterparts (plus lawyers and accountants cost another 3 per cent.)

Economically, these corporatization schemes lack common sense. The pauperization of large segments of the population, and the transfer of debt to the future, means that more people can't pay for products, which means the economy slows. The 1 per cent will be alright if they get bailed out by the public, but if they don't get the bailout to which they are now so accustomed, they too will crash.

Metrics for the real world economy, divorced as it is from dogmatic policy-making, are increasingly negative. Corporate empowerment deals that send raw materials off-shore, for example, negatively impact other segments of the economy. For example, the Conference Board Of Canada metrics for Canada's innovation and global competitiveness show continued weaknesses. These negative metrics should be red flags to stimulate different economic policies, but, consistent with technocratic rule, this is not happening.

Arguably the most important threat facing the world right now is human-caused global warming. Common sense dictates that this issue be identified and addressed, but the technocrats' obsession with an economic plan is divorced from the reality of increasing planetary disasters.

"Even when surrounded by self-generated disaster", argues Saul, "(the technocrat) believes that he is right." The melting Arctic ice cap, and the devastating droughts and extreme weather currently facing the planet are seen by technocrats as being divorced from their policies. This false reasoning works at cross-purposes to addressing the real threat of human-caused global warming, and the need to transition to a low carbon economy, the technology of which is already developed (elsewhere for the most part), and is improving daily.

Notwithstanding the moral and common sense failings of the tar sands industry, even the economic management of this resource is a failure. A common sense alternative is to slow development and to create a strong Heritage/Sovereign fund, as a method of counterbalancing inflation, and saving for economic priorities. But these alternatives are not accepted because they don't fit into the Harper government's rationale for resource exploitation.

The failure of the Harper regime's dogma to address real world problems is, in turn, leading to more bullying, secrecy, and anti-democratic practices to counter the growing opposition. Instead of embracing better alternatives, the government continues down the same failing path.

As the insular logic of unfettered capitalism continues to clash with the logic of the real world, our government remains willfully blind to the lessons of history and science. The current regime's penchant for suppressing and ignoring these lessons is not serving us well.