Government and Future Society

Like many, I have been watching the tempest in the tea pot over the announced changes to the census in Canada. It was particularly hysterical when one government figure announced that they were ignoring the many negative comments because ‘the Silent Majority’ supports what they are doing. The ‘Silent Majority’…!!! Oh, give me a break! Granted that for thousands of years the legal convention has always been that silence denotes assent, but when the census data users all complain, saying that the change is ok because the people who don’t use the data are happy is pretty lame.

But in the end, there has been the suggestion that this change is part of a long term strategy to change the country — as some have said, the hidden agenda. And I guess that this is my problem. Governments play a long game with society — hopefully we elect people who will work at least part time for the interests of the tax payers. Their espoused platform should reflect their intent. And we trust them in this.

One local issue of late has been the announced closing of the prison farms — now granted that agriculture is no longer the major source of jobs that it once was (oh, no, we exported that work to other countries, pay stiff transportation fees and more to bring our food in from distant points…) but the prison farms did provide an economical source of food for the prison population. The new order would buy all this from private firms, probably doubling the cost and of course make all that land available to sell off to (well connected) private developers.

It does make me wonder if the future society envisioned by our leaders is one we want to inhabit? If social services are dismantled, public assets sold off, data collection about the state of society suspended, it would almost seem that we are being changed into a dystopic parody of the US. And maybe feudalism was a great deal for the guys in the castle but I think it was pretty bad for everyone else.

Governments sustain an uneven playing field for change by granting and withholding support for activities over the long term. Canada (and the US) grew in part because of the subsidies that encouraged rail transportation networks. Then these ceased to be fashionable and they were gutted just as quickly and replaced with roads and air transportation. Petroleum production is very heavily subsidized — so guess why alternate energy is so hard to get going…

One of the reasons this recovery is taking so long is that many of the jobs that made North America prosperous have been exported (like agriculture). Problem is that the people who did those jobs are still here. All around us here in eastern Ontario are the ghosts of a once thriving and prosperous society. Some of those jobs went away for technical reasons, some for economic — driven in part by governments. But I wonder if anyone thinks through the consequences of change to society as a whole? Sure, it may save a few cents to move cheese production from a bunch of local plants to a big plant on the other side of the province.

But what happens to the people who once did that work? And is the overall cost/benefit to society an improvement? I am not so sure. With many of these folks — agricultural workers, manufacturing and so forth, it seems they move from a well paid job to a mcjob or social assistance. So the private profit is offset by increased social costs — so we become poorer overall. As a society, is this what we want?

Problem is that these are the kinds of issues that governments should be addressing — but are they? Or are the using the framework of government for other purposes?