Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paris in the Springtime

One of my friends recently asked this question:

Which country will assume economic leadership fifty years from now: China or India?

I told him the question assumes too much. The short answer: neither India nor China will be able to claim the mantle of economic leadership in 2058.

We need to take into account current and historical trends that many ignore in conducting economic analysis. I would like to be able to say that Canada will lead the world, but I think hard reality will prevent this. The political, economic, and military superpower of the mid-21st century will not be China or the United States or India. Due to political forces very much in the Canadian tradition, economic power fifty years will emanate from central Europe.

Economics is a function of labour, goods, market, and government. It follows that the leading economic system will arise in the milieu that best coordinates interactions between these four entities. If labour, goods, and markets were unaffected by politics, we would be correct in extrapolating long-term trends from a stance independent of social pressures. Models that posit the coming ascendency of China and India do not sufficiently take into account the important effect of government and culture on economic systems. Governments able to move with market and labour trends will generate economic power.

Government has an essential modulating effect on economics. The independence of politics, culture, and markets is an 18th century myth born in the heady Enlightenment days of man's liberation from the political tyranny of hereditary monarchy. The birth of individualism, codified in the North American British colonies' Declaration of Independence in 1776, was was sent to King George in the same year that Adam Smith's economic playbook ("An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations") was published. The current economic power (the US) continues to bow to Adam Smith. If not for government intervention, however, the US would not have recovered from the Great Depression, and could not have become Europe's manufacturing centre from 1940 to 1970.

The US is politically and economically stuck in the late 18th century. Because of political immaturity, it will not move forward from this position, and will soon be surpassed economically and militarily.

Government is not a mere matter of form, but a matter of participation. And government is changing. The world has moved from no participation in government (Spain, 1480-1650), to weak representative government (Britain, 1650-1914), to strong representative but low-participation government (US, 1914-1970). The obvious next phase in the trend is the movement toward strong representative, high-participation government--almost pure democracy. The leading practitioners are in central Europe.

The European Union will be the world economic leader in 2058. Driving this ascendency will be the high participation of European citizens in their political affairs. Citizens of the US are not nearly as politically involved as Europeans. The most politically active US citizens are beholden to the narrow-sighted, individualistic elements of Enlightenment thought. Individual gun ownership, privatisation of services (even healthcare), and unregulated markets are held as the essential elements of a healthy society, even though these have led to the highest rate of gun violence of death of any country in history, as well as the highest incarceration rates, healthcare costs, and mortality rates of any western country.

The descent of the US has been accelerated by political arrogance abroad, but the unmoving, 240-year-old economic thinking is at the fore of the deterioration of US economic influence. The US, in fifty years, will be a weak player. India, with low citizen involvement in politics (low voter turnout, for example), will also be a weak player. China, with no tradition of democracy, will likewise soon be a minor player. This will be due to the growing importance of participatory government and the gradual worldwide equalisation of labour and markets.

Once India and China achieve economic parity with EU countries, they will stagnate due to political immaturity, while the EU continues to grow in influence. The place to be in 2058 will not be Shanghai or Bombay. No, I'd recommend Paris or Munich. Paris in the springtime, perhaps? And Octoberfest in Munich, of course.

Pearson Moore
18 August 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Algebraic Equation

A friend of mine faces a dilemma. His older brother ignored him while they grew up. After college, he talked their parents out of their savings and wasted it on a business that went bankrupt. Now, confined to a wheelchair, he wants his young brother to take care of him.

What does the younger brother owe this man?

It is one of the oldest questions ever asked. In what way does anyone benefit by supporting this leech? Haven't people already given up enough? A degree in mathematics is not required to make a simple calculation demonstrating with certainty that the younger brother has nothing to gain and much to lose in this situation.

But there's much more to this problem than an algebraic equation. Character is not established on a profit/loss statement. Responsibility is not a function of what we have received, but the natural outcome of what we're willing to give.

We give, even when those receiving our time and expertise have no appreciation of our devotion. We stand on who we are, regardless of what others may say or think about us. This is the measure of our humanity.

Therefore, the response to this question will depend on the character of the individual facing the challenge. Those who look only at the profit/loss statement will, with complete logical and economic validity, make the decision to abandon those in need. After all, these people, especially the aged and infirm and destitute, are not able to serve us or provide adequate monetary recompense. There are compelling social arguments, supported by the most accepted elements of North American culture, demonstrating quite convincingly the moral dangers inherent in a concern for anyone other than oneself. The most celebrated philosopher of American culture, Ayn Rand, wrote in "The Virtue of Selfishness" that any philosophy upholding concern for others is the erroneous philosophy of inhuman brutes.

Some claim, based on philosophies going back millennia, before recorded time, that to give without expectation of reward is the true sign of our dignity. With greatest respect to the huge majority in North America who vigorously believe in the value of self-fulfillment and the inherent truth of capitalism, I add my voice to those old-fashioned, out-of-date conservatives who say character is a function of what I contribute, not a function of what I acquire.

I must be willing, every day, to give to the company that employs me more than I receive in return. If I refuse, the company will not be able to heat the building, pay my manager, or employ anyone who does not provide direct service to clients. No building and maintenance department, then. No human resources department.

I must give more than I receive. The very concept of civilisation demands it.

It is precisely because of our willingness to give without reward that we build up civilisation. We do this even when temptations to think of self are all around us, and inside us. To the extent that we give, we build. To the extent that we take, we tear down.

What do I owe my brother?

The real question is this: To what extent do I have the strength of character to uphold my own human dignity and the precepts of human civilisation?

Pearson Moore
16 August 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's The Difference?

What's the Difference?

I first asked this question thirty years ago on a trip to northwest Ontario. I bicycled from Fort Frances to Dryden along the Wilderness Road in early autumn, just before the beginning of hunting season. I stopped at one of the few lodges along the road and had coffee with the owner.

Though still a teenager, I knew of one key difference between Canada and the United States: taxes, and especially business taxes, were much lower in the States. As the lodge owner told me of his travails in getting his business started, the difficulties inherent in obtaining permits and approvals, I realised he suffered disadvantages he would not even have to consider were he operating just a hundred kilometres south.

Everyone in Ontario spoke English, sent their children to school systems very much like those in the U.S., watched baseball and hockey on television, just like the Minnesotans to the south. The only difference, as I saw it from my experience, was the much higher rate of taxation in Canada. And so I posed the question this way:

Why doesn't Canada just join the U.S. as the 51st state?

I was positive the lodge owner, this entrepreneur suffering unnecessarily under Canada's oppressive tax burdens, would be immediately receptive to the idea. After all, weren't entrepreneurs much better off in an environment of lower taxes that encouraged commercial and creative freedom? I at first interpreted his furrowed brow and intense concentration on the swirls in his coffee as a sign of his strong concurrence with my common-sense position. He was silent for several moments after I asked the question, and this convinced me of his sober appreciation of my teenage wisdom.

This was the entrepreneur's response:
"I hope that border stays right where it is."

What? I don't remember my response to the man's statement, but I do remember my feelings at the time: shock, confusion, disbelief. What could possibly be more conducive to personal happiness and growth than the kind of freedom we enjoyed in the United States? The idea that the U.S. vision of freedom was illusory or not conducive to happiness never entered my head until much, much later in life. Although in my teen years I did not believe every action my country took was useful, I was certainly convinced of the cultural superiority of my country. We had life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Every other culture in the world, according to my understanding thirty years ago, was in awe of our advanced society.

Inherent in the Canadian businessman's response to my question was the truth that some other set of factors was of such great importance to the man that the attraction of lower taxes had little or no bearing on his life or the decisions he wished to face. Thirty years ago, my mind contained not a single intellectual tool to even approach this idea. In fact, I am so thick-headed that my poor brain required about two decades to even begin fabricating a concept of what the businessman had told me.

Since 1998, a single question has preoccupied my mind. I have sought the answer in some fourteen books by Pierre Berton, three difficult-to-digest literary, almost academic tomes by John Ralston Saul, and innumerable trips to Vancouver, Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Barrie, Montreal, and Quebec City. I have studied la Revolution tranquille and les Rebellions de 1837. I've conducted intensive research in Wendat and Iroquois culture. I've had long conversations in both official languages.

This is the question that has occupied my faculties for the last ten years:

What's the difference?

I now know that there are many differences between the two cultures, some of them profound, and many of them quite subtle. The basic difference is simple, though I believe that coming to an adequate appreciation of the true difference is something that requires a good deal of thoughtful consideration.

The basic difference is this:
The culture of the U.S. is biased toward individualism
The culture of Canada is biased toward the common good

There are nuances even in this basic difference, of course. Some Canadians are indifferent to the needs of their neighbours; some Americans live only for others. But I think the statements above constitute an accurate broad-brush distinction between the two cultures. There are important secondary differences. Again, I feel the following statements are helpful in distinguishing the two cultures from each other:

1. Canada institutionalises most individual needs
2. The U.S. institutionalises most individual freedoms

Basic individual needs are life, food, clothing, shelter, health, and education. Basic individual freedoms are life, personal autonomy and social freedom. Individual needs are met to a higher degree in Canada than in the U.S. Except for the freedom to live one's life, individual freedoms are exercised more completely in the United States. The freedom to live, of course, is contingent upon the fulfillment of basic needs, which are not emphasised in the culture of the U.S.

The expression of personal freedom is of such importance in the U.S. that speech aimed at destroying alien cultures and individuals is protected and encouraged. The image of city police in full riot gear protecting a handful of Nazis so that they can "exercise their constitutional rights of free speech" is iconic and unique to American culture. Such a gathering in Canada or other civilised countries would be subject to laws regulating hate speech and hate crimes. This is because free speech, while important to society, is not deemed to outweigh the basic individual rights of life and health. Allowing a group of people to openly express ideas of genocide or murder is not consistent with the basic functions of society.

The maintenance of personal needs is of such importance in Canada and other civilised countries that most ulitities and personal services are run by the state or are heavily regulated by the state. The most obvious distinguishing example is health care. If you are a Canadian citizen and you require a million dollars worth of care, it is taken care of and you suffer little or no monetary loss. If you are a U.S. citizen and your require this level of care, you will likely lose your house and all of your possessions, even if you are insured. This is because health care is a private, for-profit industry in the U.S., and health insurance companies employ entire divisions of workers who find every legal loophole available and pry into every document or record in the patient's history to find a legally-defensible way of avoiding payment. This is encouraged, since capitalism is one of the supreme individual freedoms. Even if one person's monetary gain means the death of a hundred people, individual freedom is to be cultivated and encouraged.

Another interesting manifestation of the primary cultural difference between Canada and the U.S. was described most forcefully and persuasively in Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine." Gun ownership in both countries is very high. Yet, in Canada, population 34 million, about 160 people per year are murdered by handguns. In the U.S., population 300 million, about 12,000 people each year are murdered by handguns. On a per capita basis, you are ten times more likely to be killed in the U.S. than in Canada.

There are two reasons. First, Canadians are more ingrained with a sense of the worth of the individual, while Americans have more of a sense of individual and property rights and much less concern for the life of neighbour or foe. Again, "trespassers will be shot" and "this house protected by Smith and Wesson" (a common handgun brand) is a common sign found throughout the U.S. Second, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is often interpreted by common citizens as a guarantee of their right to bear arms.

This is just the beginning. This blog is an atttempt to explore the deep truths supporting the sometimes strong, sometimes subtle, sometimes nuanced cultural differences and the corollary legal and social distinctions between the two countries. I find this exploration endlessly fascinating and worthy of my energy and intense and sustained concentration and attention. I'm glad you've decided to explore with me, and I invite you to join me in future journeys on this most interesting path of cultural discovery.

12 Aug 2008