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Elections and Politics: Learning to draw correct conclusions

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Proportional Representation – A vehicle for political cooperation
Proportional Representation – A vehicle for political cooperation

Anton Wysocki's article, How I became an Ant-Voting Fanatic touches on some important issues pertaining to elections, politics, and governance. Despite, what I have no doubt are the serious concerns that motivate these, and Wysocki's many insightful observations about their current state in Canada, the conclusions that he draws from his observations are almost completely incorrect -- a clear demonstration that anti-voting and fanaticism are a misguided mix.

The Dexter Government in Nova Scotia

As Wysocki points out, once elected, governments don't always deliver what they promise, or what might be reasonably expected of them given their ideological positions. Wysocki singles out the past NDP administration of Darrel Dexter for particular criticism in this regard, and, indeed, he is quite correct in being critical. I focused on some of these same issues in my 2013 post-election article for Rabble.ca, Election Nova Scotia: Orange Crush to red tide.

In his wholesale rejection of the Dexter government ("their absolute lack of original ideas, or the willingness to apply them") Wysocki significantly overstates his case, since many useful and progressive things were accomplished under the NDP's watch. For example, as I pointed out, in relation to the environment sector:

"The NDP placed hard caps on Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG); announced very enterprising renewable energy targets of 40% by 2020 (a major achievement from the perspectives of both climate change amelioration and energy security); made significant investments in renewable energy, particularly in wind and hydro; inaugurated a solid program of renewable energy feed-in tariffs; made significant progress on energy conservation through Efficiency Nova Scotia; banned uranium mining; put any consideration of hydraulic fracturing under a responsible review process, and extended the moratorium on gas and oil drilling on Georges Bank indefinitely.

The NDP bumped up the Environmental Goals and Prosperity Act's (EGSPA) 12%-by-2015 protected lands goal to 13%, and came up with a plan to make it happen. In the face of the collapse of the pulp and paper industry, they found a remarkable silver-lining in a dark cloud, supporting the "Buy Back the Mersey" program, thereby bringing 225,000 hectares of working forest and spectacular woodlands back into Nova Scotian hands and kick-starting a pioneering community forest initiative in which profits from the sustainable harvest and restoration of these lands can contribute to a revitalization of the rural economy."

In varying degrees, such accomplishments can be enumerated in a number of other sectors. That said, it is undoubtedly the case that the Dexter administration governed from a markedly small-c conservative perspective. Indeed, my criticism has been that the government lost touch with its social-democratic roots and ideology.

All that said, this doesn't amount to any argument for abstaining from electoral politics. It's almost always been the case that, once elected, governments tend to hew to more conservative positions, for a variety of understandable reasons. As opposed to being in opposition, there are suddenly real consequences -- and costs -- to their positions and decisions. This is why clear ideological positions, solid intra-party-democracy, activist voices within -- and without -- parties, independent, critical, and investigative media, activist NGO's, etc. are all required to continue to hold a government's feet to the fire in terms of their positions and promises. Thus, it ever was.  It may be a surprise for Wysocki to discover this, but it's no argument against elections.

Voting Systems

As Wysocki points out, there are many political flaws in Nova Scotia, Canada, the United States, and other jurisdictions. Some of the best functioning governments (by no coincidence, social democratic ones) are in the Nordic countries. There are many issues here, and many ways in which good intentions can go off the rails, however, in a Canadian context, one of the chief ones is that we (along with the United States and Great Britain) are amongst the few states in the developed world that still employ the antiquated and dysfunctional First-Past-The Post (FPTP) electoral system that leads to erratic and unpredictable outcomes, and actively discourages political cooperation. Virtually everywhere else in the developed world (an increasingly in the developing world) states are using some version of Proportional Representation (PR).

This isn't the place for an extended discussion of electoral systems (see my article Canadian political calculus: Zero-sum or win-win for an in-depth discussion of the topic.). Suffice it to say that proportional electoral systems lead to governments where every vote counts and where there are tangible incentives for cross-party political cooperation. There are seldom majority governments and representatives of different parties must form coalitions in which policies and actions are determined through cooperation, consensus, and sometimes difficult and even acrimonious debate. It's tough political work, in which a much greater swath of the electorate has representatives at the table, and it leads to much better governance and political "buy-in" from the citizenry.

Rather than use the shortcomings of FPTP as an excuse to opt-out of electoral politics, a much better and more productive position is to use this as an impetus to reform the electoral and political systems. And political reform needs to extend to many other areas such as uni-cameral versus bi-cameral parliamentary systems (i.e., abolition of an appointed Senate), election financing, reforms to the standing orders of Parliament, curbing prime-ministerial power and that of the PMO, etc.

Capitalism versus Communism

Wysocki may wish to believe that the only choices available to us are the un-mitigated greed of corporate capitalism or the monolithic state capitalism of communism, however there are other -- and better -- alternatives.

In existing circumstances, he could benefit greatly from looking at the significant achievements of the social democratic Nordic states – the tremendous accomplishments in social welfare, in education and low-cost (or free) post-secondary education, in health care -- and in the consequent happiness of its citizens!

Furthermore, the recent publication of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has -- and I use the word advisedly -- completely revolutionized our understanding of how economic systems have actually worked historically, and what must be done in order to make them egalitarian, equitable, and meritocratic.

The book (the result of 15 years of empirical research into the history of economics by Piketty and many colleagues) is an evidence-based inquiry into the nature of economics. One of the most important discoveries is that -- absent wealth and inherence taxes -- as growth (economic and demographic) inevitably slows (as a result of finite resources), and absent major economic upheavals (such as WWI, the Great Depression, and WW II) that destroy vast amounts of capital -- income derived from capital will inevitably exceed income derived from labour.

Decompressed this means that a creation of a "1 per cent" class of super-wealthy and levels of inequality that are incompatible with democratic values and a society based on meritocracy, will inevitably occur. Piketty incontrovertibly demonstrates this, and thus, this new understanding and the solutions he proposes -- wealth and inheritance taxes, progressive individual and corporate taxation, "Robin Hood" taxes" -- must become a central feature of economics.

Piketty wisely eschews references to all "isms". Amongst other reasons, that is because (in my view) Piketty's analysis makes social-democratic political understandings an indissoluble part of economics itself. Neoliberal and libertarian economic structures are simply untenable if the objective is to have a democratic and meritocratic society.

As long as there are humans there will be an economy; there will be goods and services traded for value in a marketplace. There will be income streams and wealth (capital will accumulate or dissipate). Piketty's proposals for economic reform make capitalism a social-democratic undertaking. I strongly advise everyone interested in this domain (Wysocki included) to read Piketty meticulously and carefully.

Wysocki might also want to pay attention to the actual historical outcomes of communism in places like Russia and China, and how these political systems utterly failed in providing democratic and egalitarian societies -- rather the opposite.

Ukraine: An authentic mass insurrection

Wysocki needlessly blunders into the issue of Ukraine, a topic about which he is without-knowledge and utterly off-base, having apparently swallowed Kremlin propaganda hook, line, and sinker. This isn't the place to enter a discussion on this topic since it has nothing to do with electoral systems, political and electoral reform, or governance. Those interested may wish to read some of my seven-part series on recent event in Ukraine. Perhaps of particular relevance in this context are Crisis in Ukraine: Disinformation and useful idiots and Ukrainian aspirations: Material, moral, and spiritual dignity (there are links to other articles in the series).  I conclude the former by saying:

"There's no pleasure or honour in being a stooge of American propaganda, however being duped by Russian propaganda is no better. Manipulation is manipulation, no matter who the manipulator is. Useful idiots are held in contempt and cynically exploited by their masters. They believe you can be fooled all of the time. Critical thinking, independent corroboration, fact checking, confirmation of sources, trusted and reliable sources, determining plausibility, thorough background information, first-hand experience, evidence-based reasoning all are techniques to fight back. Fight back."

Parenthetically, I note that as Stephen Velychenko writes in The Strange Case of Foreign Pro Russian Radical Leftists, there is a long history of leftists misunderstanding the difference between anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism, with a resulting knee-jerk anti-Americanism and a susceptibility (in this instance) to Russian disinformation and propaganda. As Velychenko says:

"Alongside issues such as Russophilism, material interest and simple ignorance, another explanation for this double standard is that such radical leftists analyze events in terms of anti-americanism rather than anti-imperialism. This attitude makes them as amenable to Russian anti Ukrainian pronouncements, both official governmental and non governmental, after 1991 as they were before 1991.  Anti Americanism is a set of beliefs that classifies imperialism as a singular specific American rather than global phenomenon and discounts or ignores competition between imperialists and intra capitalist rivalries.

If Wysocki is looking (as he claims) for a superb illustration of the insurrection of the masses, he need look no further than Ukraine's Euromaidan Movement, in which over a million people rose up across the length and breadth of their country, rejecting corruption and kleptocracy, and wanting a civil society which authentically reflects their desires for material, moral, and spiritual dignity.

While there are certainly many shortcoming to the electoral and political systems in Nova Scotia and Canada, and many aspects of partisan politics which lead to toxic environments, dysfunctional governments, and suboptimal political outcomes, advocating to opt out of voting and its democratic imperatives, is precisely the wrong conclusion to make. We need, instead, to redouble our efforts to make electoral politics reflect egalitarian and democratic principles.

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1739 words



"Wysocki may wish to believe that the only choices available to us are the un-mitigated greed of corporate capitalism or the monolithic state capitalism of communism"

I am certain that as one of the founding members of the libertarian-communist group Stand, Antoni is well aware that there are more options than these available, and he is certainly not advocating the latter.

An economic game changer

As I wrote on the Platypus Facebook page, that may be the case, however, the main point I'm driving at is that (in my view) Thomas Piketty's work makes this capitalism/communism dichotomy a historically obsolete and conceptually sterile distinction to continue to pursue. Freed from theory and ism's, an empirically-based historical understanding of how economics has actually worked, and can be shaped to be more or less egalitarian and meritocratic, is a fundamental game changer. Piketty's work alters the economic and political playing field forever. We can use it to productively shape our efforts to make a better world rather than continuing to fight the same ideological battles in perpetuum.

Don't over-estimate Piketty

Piketty's book is good, and definitely worth the read. But it's hardly groundbreaking... he's not exactly the first person to suggest that capitalism inherently creates vast inequality and stifles democracy.

Piketty is not the first to

Piketty is not the first to point out many of the things that is are the book. He is, however, the first to prove many of these assertions. Based on massive amounts of empirical evidence Piketty incontrovertibly demonstrates many ideas that have been in circulation for some time.

Indeed, I would assert that economics has been revolutionized by Capital in the 21st Century by virtue of the fact that it has never previously even been possible to conduct the kind of analyses of economic history that Piketty and his collaborators have done. Such data was not hitherto available, nor was there the massive analytical capacity via computers to crunch these numbers to draw out conclusions from them. The amazing breadth of Capital in the 21st Century, examining a wide range of economic parameters, over extended periods of time, in many jurisdictions, has simply never been undertaken. Nothing remotely similar to this has ever been done.

Thus, the distinction: anyone can suggest that, "that capitalism inherently stifles democracy and creates massive inequality." To definitively prove it using empirical evidence is in a whole league by itself. There is a universe of difference between the two. This is the power of evidence based reasoning. It moves the discourse from mooting unsupported assertions to a discussion of the actual fabric of the subject in question. In my view it fundamentally changes our understanding, not only of economics, but of history and social justice as well. Not by debating theories, but by establishing facts.

Ukraine's "national conservative" revolution

I have written a response to this piece entitled "When One Man's Neo-Nazi is another's 'National Conservative.'"

I disagree with the content

I disagree with the content and tone of most of Wyosoki's writing on electoral politics, but Majka's response amounts to nothing but cheap red baiting. 

Opinions versus Facts

As Daniel Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." You provide an opinion; I provide facts. ;~>

A blunted capitalism isn't enough

Even if people are to accept the level of social problems that will be inherent even in a blunted capitalism i.e. mixed economy / strong social democracy this still leaves the very serious environmental issue of the growth imperative of capitalism. There is no way for the economy to grow as expected without at some point further increasing resource use, which means capitalism will always be environmentally destructive and unsustainable. I think that even if someone believes capitalism’s social effects should be lived with (i.e. if you're a social democrat), they should still object from an environmental standpoint.

It is fairly obvious that the author of this article has not taken the time to actually read a good part of what Antoni has written, because if they had it would be fairly clear that he isn't a believer in an authoritarian socialism / state capitalism, as is assumed here, for one thing. If people haven't taken the time read something thoroughly, I don't know why they feel the need to respond to it.


Capitalism and Communism

Two points:

1. Capitalism

Viz-á-viz the issue of resource use and capitalism: you are absolutely correct. As Edward Abbey wrote, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell" and this is precisely the situation we face with unregulated, corporate capitalism in which greed and unending growth are taken to be the sole economic values. The absurdity of this, and the consequent structural economic inequality that this causes are at the core of what Thomas Piketty takes to task in Capitalism in the 21st Century. As he proves his case with better, and more comprehensive evidence than has ever been marshaled in human history. Core structural changes to how market economics works must be taken if we are to avoid a future of environmental and social tragedy. And Piketty makes suggestions on what these are and how we can work towards them.

2. Communism

My concern is not Wycoski's beliefs, which he like everyone else is entitled to. My concern is with the historical record. As I write (in following up precisely this point) in Drinking the Kool-Aid: Intoxicated on Delusion:

"Monolithic state capitalism is what communism became. That is the historical record, not some notion conjectured by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao."

Russia, China, Albania, North Korea, etc. all very rapidly moved along this course, and not by accident or coincidence, but rather because this was precisely the trajectory laid out by Marx and Engels.

encouraging words


My thanks to Steve, Chris Parsons and Emily for speaking up for me. I find it most encouraging that three people who are each very much of the Left, but occupy three distinct theoretical positions, should all wish to see my ideas receive a respectful hearing—even (or perhaps in some ways, especially) because not all of you are much in sympathy with my opinions.

Thomas Piketty: Economic transfigured

Those interested in Capital in the Twenty-first Century and the work of Thomas Piketty may be interested in my article:

Thomas Piketty: Economics transfigured

"Capital in the Twenty-first Century is a profoundly revolutionary work. It provides an empirically based historical understanding of the way that economics has actually worked, and does actually work; certainly one of the most significant achievements in economic history. In so doing, it incontrovertibly establishes the centrality of redistributive economic mechanisms in underpinning democratic, meritocratic, and egalitarian societies. It cannot be otherwise." – Christopher Majka

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