Opinion – A Final Thought on Capitalism: from Chris to Christopher

By: Martin Pharand

Not in an attempt to have the last word, I would like to make a brief comment about Chris and I’s discussion regarding socialism and capitalism (all of which can be viewed in older blog posts).

I find it an interesting and eerie coincidence that Chris shares the first name of one of my favourite intellectuals, the late great Christopher Hitchens. In Hitchens’ early life as an active member of the left, Christopher demanded that he be called Chris rather than Christopher. I can only assume that this stemmed from his desire to be regarded as an ‘everyman’ or your average ‘Joe Proletariat’, this fitting well with his ideological inclinations at the time. Over the course of his career however, he went from a staunch radical to a much more complex conservative. And although not as simple a transition as I have just described, it was at this time that Chris became Christopher.

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I have seen and heard of this transformation, from the left to the right, in people so many times that I always ask myself the following question. Are these micro-level transformations analogous to the macro-level swing from the left to the right?

Let me explain. Keynesianism, Chicago School Economics, Thatcher, Reagan, the rise of the US, and the fall of the USSR; all attributes of the Cold War that I believe have contributed to first, American dominance and second, the ubiquity of capitalism today.

But American dominance was not achieved seamlessly, or without constant reminders of how fragile this position is. And in fact, recent events always seem to ask questions of American power rather than reassuring us of its existence. Regardless, what led me to begin my discussion with Chris was my interest in how the ‘swing to the right’ in general, has manifested itself in Canada and how refreshing Chris’ perspective seemed amidst my understanding of today’s political context.

Since the birth of New Public Management in the 90s, Canadian government entities have been focused on modernizing their approach to service delivery. What this approach to governance does, essentially, is adopt private sector lessons and innovations in management and apply it to the very archaic government department model. In talking to many Canadian public sector professionals today, you can see that they are dedicated, some more than others, to carrying this approach through to its end, whatever that might be.

Although I applaud the effort to bring about change in the methods of governance, which include Public Private Partnerships, SIBs and the creation of arms-length agencies, I can’t help but notice the horrible implications these things might have or have had on Canadian governance (Ornge is only one example).

The way I understand the potential risks of New Public Management are as follows. When you apply the private sector mentality to the public sector, it puts a lot of the traditional public service values or methods of seeing a problem and your relationship to it, in stark contrast. For instance, although a department may benefit greatly from being driven more by results and outcomes, this can lead to the potential for ‘ends over means’ thinking. Something Rob Ford practices quite well, and I don’t need to tell you that his style would definitely be representative of the ‘swing to the right’ I speak of.

Taking these risks, and scandals together as well as what  Kenneth Kernaghan and Donald Savoie have written, I get the feeling that there is some impending ‘red line’ that we will cross, where the left will say enough is enough and major changes will be thrust upon society’s agenda. After this discussion with Chris, I have come to question ‘the swing to the right’ but also the viability of alternatives.

As I see it now, capitalism seems to be, even with the state playing a role to set the ‘rules of the game’, generally analogous to a state of nature; seemingly ‘nasty, and brutish’ in some cases but also innovative and prosperous in others. The question I am now set to find the answer to, in due course, is whether it is only natural to have this capitalist state of nature continue. Can an alternative be constructed? Are societies meant to be constructed? All things I’m not sure of, but I’m always thankful for a ‘comrade’ like Chris to help me think, although I think he will perhaps wish to be addressed as Christopher soon enough.

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1 comment
  1. Suzanna said:

    Thank you so much for applying time to write “Opinion – A Final Thought on Capitalism:
    from Chris to Christopher The 1837 Society”.
    Thanks once more -Darwin

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