The link between change and sacrifice

Whoever put me on to the Council on Foreign Relations podcasts, thanks again. It makes for great listening while I take the dog for a walk or run on the treadmill. I heard a great panel discussion from CFR where they talked about the fascination with ‘change’. Everyone wants change these days but very few link it to sacrifice. In the U.S., if you poll people on this, 80% or more will want change. Change on foreign policy. Change on health care. Change on trade. Change on entitlements.

But if you actually tie this to sacrifice, the picture dramatically changes – the vast majority don’t want change if it in any small way may negatively impact them.

I remember the polling done for ‘self-sufficiency’. The vast majority of NBers said that the supported the notion of SS as long as it didn’t impact ‘health care’ or other things they see as important.

If self-sufficiency meant dropping large industrial electricity rates to attract 30 data centres but at the same time increasing our residential power rates by 20 bucks a month, no one is interested.

If self-sufficiency meant freezing health care spending for two years and plowing the $100 million per year into serious economic development efforts, no one is interested.

If reaching self-sufficiency meant raising any tax – personal, property or corporate, no one is interested.

If reaching self-sufficiency meant any serious seasonal EI reform, no one north of Minto is interested.

If reaching self-sufficiency meant radically overhauling the post secondary education system, no one is interested.

If reaching self-sufficiency means any sacrifice at all on my part, I am not interested.

Until it bites me on the arse. Then I get really interested, really quick.

If the pulp mill closes in my town, then I’d be willing to pay $20 more on my power bill.

If my husband has to spend 10 months a year in Alberta, I’d be willing to see health care expenditures frozen for two years.

If my kids all leave the province because they can’t find work here, maybe you can talk to me then about sacrifice.

I don’t know how to aggregate this up. How do you give New Brunswickers a global view? How do you show them that there is no gain without pain? More importantly, how do you show them the link between pain today and gain for them tomorrow?

How do you get someone in Moncton genuinely concerned about the plight of the north? How do you get someone in Fredericton concerned about the irreconcilable and terminal reality of increasing Equalization and decreasing population?

And when I say Fredericton, I mean it both literally and metaphorically.

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0 Responses to The link between change and sacrifice

  1. nbt says:

    You never once mentioned enfranchising the common voter or strengthening our democratic institutions. We can’t have a working and efficient economy without including both.

    As well, when you have a disenfranchised electorate, you in turn have a suspicious voter when it comes time to spend their hard-earned tax dollars on economic ventures [again] like you are proposing.

    I guess that’s why I feel strongly about scaling back the government’s role in the economy, at least until we figure out how to clean up situations like what happened with Caisse (and the wasted ventures on the ground that haven’t been vetted due to a poor access-to-info act).

    I guess it’s just me, but I get nervous when an organization like Enterprise NB weilds as much spending power (of our money) without one ounce of accountability. Again, I’m not totally against the work that they are doing, but since most of the money comes from taxpayers, don’t they have a right to know where their money is going? Not to mention, whether or not it is being wasted on utopian ventures where only the consultant or the group doing the study benefit?

  2. mikel says:

    Interesting that NBT and I disagree on virtually everything, but when it comes to democracy we’re pretty much on the same page.

    You’re welcome about the podcast though, you might want to check out the one they did with the two guys from the US international polling crew. That one was basically on ‘why the US is hated internationally’ again according to polls. What was interesting is that they polled americans and found the same thing-americans want cheap goods, but they want to protect american jobs. In other words if given the choice they want to eat their cake and eat it too. And really, who wouldn’t?

    But it does break down to questions about democracy. First of all, the country is awash in wealth. There is massive quantities of money out there, the feds don’t know what to do with it all, and thats even though they still muck around with an EI surplus, corporate robbery tax rates, massive tax evasion by the wealthy and corporations, etc.

    People KNOW this, its only news to the guys who try to justify the status quo with saying things like “IF you want good health care, then YOU have to pay more”. I just started the book “Greenspan Fraud” about how Alan Greenspan led the attack on social security in the early eighties. THe government was in deficit spending, but social security was always breaking even, except for one year when its deficit was still one eighth the size of government spending.

    But the government said that ‘bad times are ahead’ and changed the legislation so that government could pick the pocket of the social security accounts, much the same way the canadian government pinches the EI surplus (and of course lower the amounts that people were getting).

    THIS is why people are sceptical and why they don’t buy the ‘tough love’ line. It takes five seconds thought to figure that IF Saint John harbour needs a cleanup, why the hell not get the guy who is saving 4 and half million dollars a year on their property tax to pay for it-why does downtown St. John, whose poverty rate I just found out is close to 50%, get told ‘you’ve got to suffer a bit for growth’.

    And those are all government decisions. So when government hands the keys to the vault over to Irving, why the heck are you surprised that average New Brunswickers don’t buy the “hey, you’ve got to pay up for your life of fancy”-even though most of the services in NB are among the worst in Canada, and tax rates aren’t that much different, in fact are higher.

    Thats the reality. I’ll bet if you polled miramichiers and asked whether they’d support a lower power rate for a data centre, you’d hardly find a person who’d disagree.

    But again, in a country as rich as Canada, why should the people at the bottom of the food chain be expected to ‘suffer for more’. We’ve had that discussion before, hell, if you want fifty million to go to economic development, get them to change the legislation so that more than 2% of the government pension fund is invested in the province. Can you think of ANY New Brunswickers who wouldn’t go for that? Of course not, which of course is why New Brunswickers never get the chance to answer.

    In fact, I’ve got a guaranteed money making project for you right here-take a higher percentage of the pension fund and invest it in NB. Use that money to start an interest free loan program so that homeowners can add green energy to their homes. That energy then would produce as much as a nuclear plant adds to the grid.

    That energy sold is a far better investment than the speculations its currently on, and it fosters home growth. In order to satisfy all those green customers, new stores with the equimpment would have to open. The publicity would have european companies banging on the door and research in the industry would go crazy (unless they just sold out to ontario suppliers).

    There is ‘economic development’ for you that requires no investment from the feds, just the province.

  3. Gawain says:

    One of the reasons that NBers lack a global view relates to a steadfast myopia which relegates the rest of the world as the “other”. We see evidence of this in many ways: the naive reliance on putative future “self-sufficiency” rather than integration into the Canadian or global economies, the IT award ceremonies that exclude non-NB firms from competition, the reluctance to modernize interprovincial trade rules to expand trade within the Atlantic provinces, and the list goes on.

    Are we sleepwalking? In fact, few NBers recognize the speed at which the global change train is bearing down on them. Consider McKinsey’s “10 trends to watch” for example (www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Ten_trends_to_watch_in_2006_1734): how many of these or similar analytical discussions are current among the business or political elites in NB today?

    Where is the discussion about how the economic rules of agriculture, forestry, fishing, IT, manufacturing, et. al. are being rewritten as we rearrange the deck chairs?

    Where is the discussion about how NB fits into any future global map?

  4. mikel says:

    That’s an interesting comment, but there should be an addition to it. The ‘where is the discussion’ bears primarily on the media monopoly. Virtually ALL discussion necessarily goes on in print and perhaps radio. These aren’t discussed because ONE company doesn’t want them discussed (but as the rest of Canada proves, not many corporate media players want those questions addressed). Right here you’ll find discussion on virtually all of those issues, troubles are that first-nobody sees it, and second, people can’t do anything about it anyway.

    That’s especially true in NB…what do you do if you don’t like Graham’s policies? You can join a party whose party’s are virtually identical with a few cosmetic differences, or you can…well, I guess that’s it.

    As for the government, you’d have to be hopelessly naive to think that they actually care that much what you think, however at any given time there are numerous departments that are acting like ‘commissions’ and asking for public input. I’ve said before that that’s a bad way to move policy, it has the ‘appearance’ of democracy, but is actually a step backward from the typical way of conducting public commissions. But lets say there was constant media attention on one of the issues. Then at least it would be possible that it would have some impact with people. But even then is no guarantee because of course the government could simply not print letters it doesn’t like.

    But as for New Brunswickers views, thats way too harsh. New Brunswickers are fully aware of globalization, in fact NB was BORN with globalization in mind, always has been. Most industries are governed by international players and international trade.

    When you have most of the graduating population move away from the province to find a job you can’t very well say they are notoriously introspective. Hell, most everybody I know teaches or taught english in the orient. If there were actually jobs and NBers moved home you’d have one of the most internationally knowledgable population on earth. Tell that woman who lives in Stanley whose husband flies out to Alberta for four days a week that ‘she doesnt understand the global economy’-bullshit.

    But there is point to the myopia, because IF you live in NB and only pay attention to mainstream media, then you really don’t know whats going on. Ask any NBer about the structure of Maine’s government and you can bet you’ll get a blank stare except maybe on the border. Thats even though guys like AIMS think we should be better pals with them. Ask about any form of government of any country and how they are governed and there is nothing, nobody knows. The Irving media is extremely myopic, there is little of substance except the ‘crime of the day’ in some other part of the world.

    But other media aren’t that much different, they may be owned by different corporations, but they are still corporations. In most provinces I’ve at least found pretty prominent alternative media sources, but New Brunswick, which arguably needs it most, still doesn’t have one that I can find, and thats even with two journalism schools composed of young students who supposedly are notoriously ‘left’.

    So take a look at the last american election a year ago autumn.Half of the states during that election had referenda on over 80 pieces of legislation ranging from gay marriage to pig factory farms. In all the mainstream press I found ONE article about the actual referenda, and that was to bash them because gay marriage legislation failed in the states that had a vote. There was no mention of anything else, even though those referenda bear more on legislation than what representatives got in.

    That’s just a quick example, but the above bears directly on one thing-democracy. In order to have a functioning democracy you need people who have an idea of whats going on, and you need some kind of mechanism for them to express themselves. In any ‘normal’ society, the media would be constantly awash in the greatest crisis to Canada ever seen-the simple fact that those in power do not enact the legislation they said they would.

    THe ONLY democratic mechanism ‘we’ have is voting a party in. That party runs on a campaign of what it will do. If it turns out that none of those things can be trusted, the entire process is moot. Why vote for Graham? Because he’s a nice guy? Thats’ not democracy, that’s ‘canadian idol’, actually, even worse than that because those people have to be able to sing.

    So there are TONS of hugely important ‘discussions’ that SHOULD be going on but aren’t. That again is because of the media monopoly. The only way to change that is to change the nature of the monopoly, which doesn’t look like its going to happen, or else you

  5. Anonymous says:

    You have highligted exactly the reason a prosperity plan or SS plan or whatever PR twist you put on it, will not succeed in the abscence of a sense of urgency.

    The general public, and therefore our politicians, is very short sighted and tends to choose fire fighting over fire prevention.

    It requires exceptionally strong leadership to overcome the typical short sighted demands of the public (e.g. to bailout a failing business) in favour of effective decisions and policy that will have sustainable benefits.

    Unfortunately, it takes a crisis to get people thinking differently and things will have to get worse before they get better.

  6. mikel says:

    PS You may want to check out the Carnegie Council podcast, its good as well. Also, here in Waterloo they have the CIGI – Center for Innovation in Government International (or somehting like that). They have tons of their talks and presentations online, they aren’t podcasts, but you can download them to your player.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Talking about the U.S., Canada and investment attraction (well, not exactly in this posting, but one of David’s favorite topic anyway), check out this post in Richard Florida’s blog in the Globe and Mail:

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/
    TheCreativityExchange/~3/219903198/
    guess-whos-buyi.html

    If the link doesn’t work, just see the post “Guess Who’s Buying America?” at:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/creativeclass

    I am curious to know what David thinks about it.

  8. trevor says:

    Just got back from our first 21Inc meeting and I was surprised to find so many people with the same concerns of the SS plan as I have, it’s a great marketing slogan but we need targets, public dialogue, debate, accountability and specific action to create sustainable progress for New Brunswick.

    There seems to be a silent majority in the province that realize that sacrifice is needed to create change and that the general public needs to better understand what SS really means as well as its implication.

    “Challenges” exist in the province like a culture of complacency(as David points out), a lack of political debate among the public, media and our approach to retaining our youth, but we also need to focus on what we do well. Let’s stop telling our youth that they can’t compete on the global stage. People need to hear about the Whitehill’s, Fatkat’s, Sabien’s, Irving’s, McAins, etc..

    I was also very impressed and enthusiastic about the 20 other individuals who were chosen for this program.

    I was skeptical about our future leaders prior to attending 21Inc, but I now beleive there is appetite for change in the province. We just need the courage to step-up to the task.

  9. David Campbell says:

    I’m glad we have an inside guy on that 21Inc. program. Congrats. Keep streaming intelligence from your sessions.

  10. trevor says:

    Thanks David, I’ll share what can be shared until the final report is distributed. You should know that a few of the 21 leaders read your blog regularly.

  11. nbt says:

    mikel: that’s healthy [in a democracy] for ppl to disagree. That’s what it is all about.

    But unfortunately in New Brunswick, we have an atmosphere where a centralized, top down government controls too much of our lives. So much so that ppl have become seriously disenfranchised and have taken themselves out of the loop completely (which is dangerous for a society I might add).

    Why is it so dangerous? Because we are left with very little debate on the ground, and in the end, when you have a society which discourages civic participation, we end up with a few winners that emerge which have been hand picked by government (usually cheerleaders, not leaders) whose primary agenda is to take up the slack for those who have lost complete faith in government. And that’s a shame since we should be relying on the strengths of the many citizens who [could] fair well in a healthy and strong economy driven by a working democracy, not to mention, a kick ass private sector.

    Furtheremore, we need more voices from the left questioning things and more [true] voices on the right setting the record straight. As I see it now, we have neither, just a bunch of “friendlies” who can only go so far in truly criticizing the current aganda without the state buckling down on them. In other words, there are too many tied to the state in the mushy middle for there to be a solid debate in this province.

    Which is probably why you rarely hear a peep out of any of them about the need for democratic reform. One of the important issues in this province, if not the most important one. I guess it is in the advantage of business and government monopolies to keep the eroding system the way it is. Too bad they don’t see it as serious roadblock which is, and has, held up our economic and social progress for decades.

    On a lighter note, congratulations to the chap above for being one of the few that stands up for this province regardless of the atmosphere which discourages us to do so. Too bad there aren’t more individuals like Trevor. However, I fear the reason there are not is because they have left long ago for greener pastures. Hopefully we can keep Trevor around until his 30 and 40th birthday. 😉 Time will tell.

    And yes, I know 21Inc is a creation of government, but Trevor has been around well before that.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Umm… you do realize that the CFR are the same people who called for a new Pearl Harbor prior to the 911 attacks and that many of its members are 100% complicit in perpetrating the greatest transfer of wealth to the upper class in human history?

    Don`t be fooled, David – the CFR would be happy to put you and your kids in a nice little work camp for the rest of your lives.

    You might one day wish New Brunswickers had the resources or skill set to make it outside the province.