A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Private Enterprise Does Not Serve the People

One of the arguments I keep hearing from right and center right parties, and sometimes from center left parties, is the notion that it is the private sector’s job to provide housing for the people of the country, and that government has no place in homebuilding.
The crux of this belief is that private enterprise, when provided with an opportunity, will take care of the needs of the people. The argument is supported by the theory that government has no place interfering with business, and that business, when unfettered by government control, will look out for the interests of the people.
This theory is often applied to other issues, such as daycare, medicine, the environment, labour law, education. The philosophy is that business interests can do a better job than government, and that government getting involved in things like building houses, providing daycare, education, health care services, only enlarges the beauracracy and leads to inefficiency in the delivery of services.
Its an ideological theory that really has no basis in fact. Simple truth is, if private industry could be trusted to deliver homes, educations, labour justice, daycare, healthcare and to do what’s right by the working class, then we would have no need for government. Heck, if business is looking out for the people, then there would be nothing for government to do.
Let’s remember for a moment why representative government came to be in the first place. In English speaking society that takes us to the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was implemented by noblemen in order to insure the King did not run riot on them. In the Magna Carta, provisions were implemented to limit the power of the King, and to protect the rights and priviledges of the Kingdom’s citizens.
Representative government came about as a tool whose primary function was to strike a balance between the royalty of a nation and its people. You see, left to their own devices, the nobility simply ran riot on the citizenry. Basically, those that had took what they wanted, and the have-nots had no legal recourse to protect themselves from having what little they did have taken away. With the advent of representative government, neither the wealthy nor the poor could just take whatever they wanted. You might say that the whole purpose of representative government was to protect the have-nots from the haves, and to insure the haves provided the have-nots with their basic needs.
It is still government’s primary purpose today. Government, for all intent and purpose, is meant to be an advocate for those who do not have power and money. Its whole purpose is to make sure that every citizen of a country, rich or poor, is on a level playing field. It is not there to make the rich richer, the poor poorer, the rich poorer, or the poor richer. Government’s job, is simply to make sure everyone has a chance to live a good life, rich or poor.
Somehow, over the past many years, government, particularly here in Canada, has become more of a protectorate of the rich. While government’s primary responsibility ought to be as a voice for the voiceless, they have in fact become the voice of the already loud.
Herein are some examples of how, in Canada at any rate, government has become the bullhorn for the wealthy, and fails in its obligation to the not wealthy: Employment Insurance was orignally designed to help working people whose jobs were subject to seasons and market changes. The idea was, when a man was laid off or fired because there was no work, then he could still get by. However, in recent years, EI has become more and more difficult to get. The end result is that workers who are no longer able to collect benefits, because of more stringent requirements for benefits, now must take second, sometimes, third jobs, often at lower rates of pay, just to survive. This creates a situation where more and more people are looking for work, and allows employers a greater number of workers to choose from. If an employer is able to choose between an employee who wants $10 an hour, and one who is willing to work for $8 an hour, which is he most likely to choose?
Its the same deal when governments make it more difficult to receive social assistance. When people have nothing to fall back on, they become willing to accept less, because less is better than nothing.
Because of these actions by government, employers now get away with paying less than they were a generation ago, their profits are higher, and they have a greater choice of workers. Where thirty years ago a man could afford to support his wife and children on a single wage, he must now work longer and harder, and chances are his wife will also be forced into the work place, just to maintain the lifestyle he grew up with.
It was the same with health care. When hospitals and emergency wards were fully funded, everyone had equal access and no one had to pay extra costs. When funding to health care was axed, services became limited. Soon private health care agencies started to show up, offering services that used to be available to all, to those who could afford to pay a little extra. This helped to create more industry, and allowed wealthy business interests to make capital fromindustires that used to be unavailable to them.
Education was also a target. Growing up in Canada in the 1950s and ‘60s pretty much everyone was able to at least go to college without incurring great debt load. Nowadays, a two year college trade program will cost a student upwards of $50,000. even with grants and scholarships accounted for. This in turn has allowed private enterprise to get into the education business and make money where they were not able to make money before, by opening private schools and charging marginally lower tuition fees.
When it comes to housing, governments’ refusal to build houses is proving to be a total boon to private industry and an unmitigated disaster for the buying public. Because there aren’t enough houses to go around, the pressure on the real estate market is immense, driving prices up. About the only people making money off this situation are the developers and real estate agencies. The rest of us, renters or buyers, are paying exhorberant prices for homes, prices that, for most of us, are well beyond our wages.
If the government were to build houses, to reclaim unused buildings and renovate them for housing, and to develop social housing in urban areas, the end result would be a lessening of market pressure, a lowering of housing costs for both renters and buyers. Yet governments today continue to argue that it is not government’s place to build, why? Because government today serves as an advocate for business, instead of the advocate for the people it was meant to represent.
Getting back to the Magna Carta, and all principles of representative government, the whole idea was to protect the less powerful from the ultimately powerful. It was not necessarly to act as a balance between the two so much as an advocate for the less powerful. Today, instead of Kings and Royalty, we have millionaire industrialists and corporations. The purpose of representative government is to act as a protectorate for the concerns of people against the power of corporate wealth. Instead, somehow, government acts more like the protectorate of the power against the will and needs of the people, and its time we take it back to where it is meant to be, and to do the job it was meant to do.
There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in history that unfettered wealth will do what is best for the poor. Some will argue that wealth, such as the British Royalty, invented democracy, invented human rights, invented representative government, but the fact is, the royalty was dragged kicking and screaming into respecting and upholding the rights of its less advantaged citizens.
Today, government argues that corporate profits will lead to corporations spreading the wealth around, while the opposite is quite apparent. Why else would huge corporations be making record profits and laying off workers at the same time? Here in Canada we have federal and provincial governments continually reducing taxes and creating loopholes for the wealthy and for corporations, while the spending power of everyday citizens shrinks. We are being told over and over again that private enterprise will fix the problems in our society, yet the less we make them do, the less they do.
Take daycare as an example. A year ago our PM cut funding to the provinces for daycare and offered all sorts of tax relief and benefits to private enterprise to get into the daycare racket. Now, a year later, our PM has been forced to give the money back to the provinces because private enterprise wants no part of daycare. Sadly, the money that has gone to the provinces, in most cases, will not go into creating government operated daycare, but will be offered to private enterprise to go into daycare, and the result will undoubtedly be a lack of available quality daycare!
Whether its healthcare, daycare, housing, employment insurance, the environment, government today continues to argue that the solutions must come from the private sector, despite all the evidence of history bearing out the fact that, when left to its own devices, the private sector will take care of its own self interests regardless of what is happening to the public.
Instead of serving the people, government today serves the King, and for all intent and purpose, we’re right back to where we were when a small group of noblemen took up arms against the King and forced him to accept that the citizens of the kingdom deserved a voice in the decision making process.
So, next time you hear a politician argue that the solutions to the nation’s problems must come from the private sector remember, the reason we have respresentative government is because the private sector cannot be trusted to do what’s right for the general public, if they could be, then we’d have no need of politicians. Then give that politican what he or she rightfully deserves by replacing he or she with someone who recognizes what the purpose of government really is, to serve the people, not the power.
Its either that, or wait until things are so bad that we have no other choice but to rise up and overthrow the king again. Now that’s a war that might actually be worth fighting.



Post a Comment

<< Home