The Crossfire Effect

I listened to a great podcast yesterday in the car on the way to Freddy Beach.  It was with the heads of the news departments of CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.  They were debating the future of TV news but I was especially interested in the discussion of news as entertainment (the cable news effect – Olberman, Beck, etc.). 

The idea is to take a news story and turn it into CrossFire – which was among the first examples (in their minds) of news as entertainment).  Two people on opposite sides of an issue debate in a sometimes heated way about the issue and the audience is entertained – primarily because of the heightened tension of the battle.

I felt a bit like that yesterday on the 21Inc. panel discussion.  I was talking about the need for New Brunswick to attract investment and focus in on ways to grow the economic foundation of the province in order to see the creation of jobs that keep people here (and help attract migrants/immigrants) and to generate the taxes required to pay for the kinds of public services that we all want. I felt like one of the other panelists – won’t take their name in vain here – was responding to my comments in a CrossFire like fashion. 

I say we need to find a way to have the private sector play a more important role in New Brunswick’s future and stop always assuming it is only the role of government and that gets translated by the other panelist into a commentary on how people shouldn’t knock the importance of the state.  There were several other examples of this.  Because of time and format I couldn’t respond to these implied charges that I am a libertarian, rabid capitalist who hates the state.

The benefit of having a blog is that you can respond in a clear fashion to this type of thing.

First, I think the ‘state’ has a critical role to play in economic development and I think the ‘state’ more broadly has been a fundamental reason why Canada has emerged as such a great country.   But I don’t think that means we are not allowed to criticize the ‘state’ (whatever that is) when there are big issues that need to be debated.  The reflexive defense of the state is just as boring to me as the reflexive criticism of the state.

Second, I am not a rabid capitalist – by any means.  I have witnessed first hand how the profit motive drives people to do some pretty nasty things and I have, as you have, witnessed this on a provincial, national and international basis.  However, I think understanding the limitations of a profit-motivated free market economic system does not mean we have to treat it as some kind of bad system that has to be tolerated.  We need to celebrate successful companies that are good employers and that are good to their communities (broadly speaking) and not feel guilty about it. 

If there are companies that are exploiting workers or the environment or acting in a brutish fashion, that’s a bad thing but it’s the lack of businesses in New Brunswick that has led to out-migration, high unemployment, very high dependence on seasonal employment, the dependence on Equalization, etc.  We need far more companies to set up here or to grow from here. 

This should be axiomatic and I can’t believe in 2009 that we can’t agree on this.

The last point here and then I’ll stop.  One of the 21incers asked if New Brunswick had a right to exist (or something to that effect) given that it can’t survive on its own without significant funds generated from the economies in the rest of Canada.

I made this statement in my TJ column two weeks ago:

“I personally believe that communities have value beyond their economic foundation.  The culture, friendships, family ties and shared history that binds communities together has value beyond a straight financial calculus. “

 That should clear up my position on the issue.

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17 Responses to The Crossfire Effect

  1. Tim Coates says:

    David, myself and others who I spoke to after the session certainly didn’t feel that you came across as a rabid libertarian-capitalist (could a libertarian be anything else?). Nothing even close. Your statements were succinct, comprehensive, persuasive and clear arguments for root causes of our province’s challenges. But maybe that’s because I spend a lot of time thinking about economics and agree with you on most things. Regardless, it didn’t come across as a “cross-fire” match-up but a good debate with a large zone of agreement. I’m looking forward to reading Jacques longer post on his blog.

  2. mikel says:

    Can the above link to this Jacques blog so we can read it? For the above though, you technically CAN”T be a libertarian and a capitalist, unless you simply accept some people’s PR view of what capitalism is. The ‘no rules’ free market quickly leads to monopolies, and that monopoly then ‘sets the rules’. It takes a political structure to make sure no monopolies occur, that is actually what the states main purpose is according to classical capitalism, and we can note that neither the US nor Canada puts much effort into that-in fact the US does it more than Canada. We have the worst monopoly laws in the industrial world, which explains why virtually every facet of our corporate environment is a monopoly or oligopoly. It also explains why Canada is the largest foreign owned economy in the world.

    It’s too bad that the debate or talk or whatever wasn’t televised, it really should have been. There was an environmental conference in Fredericton where all the speakers were recorded and put on archive.org. This would have been a great addition.

  3. mikel says:

    Thanks, good stuff. I thought I’d add an anecdote here that rarely gets discussed (in such a pointed form). I was talking to a friend in New Brunswick last night who said that a local building supply centre was finally going out of business. Apparantly they had faced bankruptcy several times before, but when I said the economy finally caught up to them, I was told ‘well, they were conservatives so they couldn’t get bailed out this time’.

    One final criticism, its VERY good there are such blogs as this one, since according to Jacques the meeting wasn’t even open to the public or the media. That says a lot right there, and I suspect the CURRENT crop of politicians went through some kind of similar thing as youngsters. In other words, its VERY important that Jacques and your ideas get out to those young NBers that AREN”T in such government sanctioned organizations, because if ‘change’ is going to come from someplace, its from outside the ‘mainstream’ political organizations, and not the ones ‘hand picked’ to be leaders (but maybe thats too cynical/critical).

  4. Rob says:

    Can we also get a link to the podcast w/ the department heads?

    Regarding New Brunswick’s right to exist, NB will always exist, regardless of political subdivisions or economic success. We could be merged w/ Nova Scotia, or become the 51st state, but we would remain NB. I don’t think our identity is tied to our place as one of the smallest provinces in Confederation. It’s just like how Chatham and Newcastle remain such, even if the highway signs erroneously call it “Miramichi”.

    “But I don’t think that means we are not allowed to criticize the ’state’ (whatever that is) when there are big issues that need to be debated.”

    Jacques makes good reference, as has mikel in the past, that people in NB are generally not willing to criticize the “state” lest they be branded as a trouble-maker. If there was ever a barrier to innovation and political change, this fear of speaking out hangs around NB like an albatross.

    Change ain’t gonna come if no one is willing to become it.

  5. richard says:

    “Change ain’t gonna come if no one is willing to become it.”

    I wonder if the lack or resistance to change is a function of out-migration. Many of those who want something different leave the province in search of opportunity. The rewards are seen as greater if you leave than if you try to stay and fight the monopolies. Combined with a press that is largely indifferent or hostile to any meaningful change, plus a self-satisfied chattering class, that creates a large inertia resisting change.

  6. Adam says:

    Hi David –

    1. Loved the perspective you offered as part of the panel Saturday.

    2. I self-identify with the term “capitalist” and don’t think it needs to be treated as a dirty word. What I took away from your comments was that the economics of the situation are an important part of the dialogue on the challenge to New Brunswick. When you have a healthy economy you have a stronger resource-base to tackle the plethora of other issues. Didn’t think there way anything “rabid” about it or that anything you said de-valued other factors / considerations on the social / cutlural side.

    3. I think you might be referering to my question and I wanted reiterate the prefacing caveat to it. THe question was asked from a purely economic standpoint – can we justify to other Canadians the continued investment in New Brunswick through equalization payments on a ROI-basis. Other provinces have had their fortunes reversed (Newfoundland is now a “have” while Ontario is all of the sudden a “have not”). I suppose this speaks to the Self-Sufficiency agenda. Just wondering – IF the Federal Government behaved purely as an invester, is there a justification to treating NB as a distressed asset worth putting more money into?

    And just FTR, I’m also very glad too that the Federal Government and Canada does NOT behave solely based on a financial-basis…certainly as you say “communities have value beyond their economic foundation”.

  7. mikel says:

    Well, if anything this looks like its brought some new people into the ‘debate’, so thats a positive. I’m not sure if ‘outmigration’ is a symptom or a cause. There is a difference between leaving for ‘economic opportunities’ and leaving for ‘political opportunities’. If you just want a job in your field, then you will leave, but that doesn’t mean you are more likely to be politically active.

    And even if I said it, I’d disagree that NO ONE speaks out for fear of being branded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a legislature so inundated with protests as the New Brunswick one, and I was in Toronto during the Harris years. The problem, again is there is no place for protest to develop. In a functional democracy environmentalists would organize into a Green Party or else join a small party in droves, that brings new issues to the table.

    For whatever reason that doesn’t happen, Mark D’Arcy went the more productive route and is bringing a lawsuit against the government. Unfortunately, thats a last resort measure and not a particularly democratic one-although its better than nothing.

    I don’t think ANY government has a ‘right to exist’, that belongs to life forms. For the transfer payment debate, Adam should check out past blogs as thats been debated quite extensively here. That’s a different angle though, the feds are NOT ‘just investors’, they are partners. New Brunswickers pay the same taxes as ontarians to the fed, so when something happens like the example where we see the ‘big five’ making demands for greater benefits, then other provinces have the right to demand more. I do however, think its valid IF the feds ever took the province to task for its investments-as should New Brunswickers. I think you SHOULD be up in arms that the majority of federal provincial infrastructure funds are used by the provincial govenrment for highways when other provinces are using them to build industrial parks and invest in new technology companies. Unfortunately NOBODY is raising those problems-except at blogs.

  8. richard says:

    ” If you just want a job in your field, then you will leave”

    I think that, in every generation, the ambitious will tend to leave when economic prospects are poor. That leaves us with the less ambitious (and maybe the less bright) – whether they end up in politics or not.

    As far as protests go – speaking out seems to be less common when the monopolies are the targets. I haven’t seen too many large marches against Irving’s pollution in SJ or farmers burning the McCains in effigy over the prices they get for their products. Given the condition of the province, there have been very few manifestations of anger – certainly almost none that have dealt with the fiscal problems NB faces. The Legislative Assembly generally goes about its business in an eery silence (apart from the insults thrown across the aisles). I was in ON during the Harris years too – there is no comparison – ON was much louder.

  9. mikel says:

    Obviously you don’t follow Charles Leblanc’s blog. If you only follow mainstream media then you really don’t get an account of the number of protests there. I am talking about proportion though, there are a lot more people in ontario, so more to go to protests. But NB is far from ‘silent’, the angry people ARE there, but again, with a monopoly media its like poverty-they’re invisible. As for industrial protests, its very rare to see protests against any industry anywhere in Canada. Everybody knows the buck stops at the province, Irving will of course do what it can get away with, its a business. It’s governments job to hold them to account, and its the public body, so thats where the protest will go.
    I’m not sure ambition in politics is the same as ambition in business. In some cases it may be, but I think in general its quite different.

  10. mikel says:

    Just wanted to mention finally, that a lot of people ‘fear change’ for the simple reason that usually change in legislation is BAD. There are good changes, but we don’t hear a lot about them, and they are definitely more muted in NB.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Change takes strong leadership. We’ve not had it since McKenna.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The trend for extensive public consultation is retarding change since politcians and some of the public interpret consultation as a means for concensus.

    e.g. Traveling the province and asking people about taxation is going to garner a lot of responses that taxes should be lower; but is that what we really need to improve our education system?

    The reality is, much of the meaningful change we need from government simply will not have concensus nor will it even have the support of the majority. However, good government and strong leadership will have the intelligence and the confidence to make change they feel is necessary for the good of the province.

  13. richard says:

    “Obviously you don’t follow Charles blog”

    Come on. Get serious. We are talking about large groups engaging in protest. Chuckles is just Chuckles. Nearly all the protests in NB surround (as David pointed out) people complaining about losing a benefit – its ‘I pay $1 in taxes so I demand my $1 million in services’. You rarely see large organized protests for social justice the way you did during the Harris years in ON.

    “Change takes strong leadership”

    Exactly. That is probably NBs biggest problem right now – a lack of leadership. We are adrift.

  14. mikel says:

    Charles is media, he covers all the protests in Fredericton. When he takes pictures of a protest that proves that it does exist, it has nothing to do with whether a person likes Charles or not. I do agree with the ‘nature’ of the protests, but thats no different than Ontario. Richard seems to be complaining that there are no protests for the things HE supports, which is a different issue. My point is that there ARE angry people, and with the right motivation they will show up in protest. Its true that if David said ‘I’m having a protest to get more FDI’ that maybe few people would show up. BUt for ‘change’ then the support is definitely there. THAT is where ‘leadership’ comes in, but Roger Duguay MAY be a great leader, we don’t know, because he gets no coverage. But if people started joining the NDP then we’d find out.

    I’d REALLY have to point out that the anonymous post above is completely wrong. If anything, there is VERY little ‘public consultation’. Come on. You have a province where for the first time I’ve seen a government taken to court over a lack of consultation. Consultation is getting even worse, with the liberals preferring just to set up a website and let people post comments (sometimes printed, sometimes not). In the past this at least was something that ‘sort of’ worked. Lord’s committee on forestry practices actually led to a few bones thrown to the numerous groups presenting, the liberals completely reversed those with handouts to corporations, with NO public consultation.

    Where direct democracy proves invaluable is with the addition of a mechanism-a referendum, to decide between options. We are at the point where few people even trust government to listen to people, so the idea of ‘consultation’ in Canada is a joke.

    As for leadership, the Premiers of today are no different than McKenna. Give them carte blanche with a divided opposition and they’ll do the same. Graham ‘makes decisions’, thats what a ‘leader’ is supposed to do, just because you don’t like the decisions doesn’t mean leadership is lacking.

  15. Rob says:

    Re the media, protests, and Charles, look at this blog post from last Friday: http://bit.ly/Xo5RF. Charles shows a protest, gets an interview w/ an organizer, and now the information is out there. It may not be a large protest, but it’s certainly informative to see what actually happened without several media filters. I don’t see why news services like the CBC couldn’t provide raw feed long form interviews like these at very low cost. I’d love to watch a ten to fifteen minute interview w/ Shawn Graham or David Alward, and really get to know what they want for the province.

    As opposed to what Richard said about people protesting only to demand services at any cost, the CUPE spokesman criticized tax cuts at the expense of reducing services. I don’t think that’s a message that’s been transmitted in the NB traditional media.

  16. Anonymous says:

    The ultimate consolation is called an election.

    The charade that governments go through is merely a feel-good exercise that allows governments to declare they ‘consulted’ the people. Besides, 4 years is a short time to implement new policy and affect meaningful change; consultation needs to take place prior to receiving a mandate. Effective consolation would be prior to an election when policy platforms are being developed.

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