Linda McQuaig deserves credit. In defiance of what now passes for common sense, she insists on telling the truth. Shooting the Hippo is the latest in a series of four pithy reports on the Canadian economy and on the stories we tell ourselves about it. She has previously taken on such dense topics as taxation, international trade and social welfare policy, and rendered them both comprehensible and compelling. Now, her subject is public debt. You must search very hard to find Canadians who are undaunted by government spending. When you find them, however, chances are they have read Linda McQuaig's book.
Politicians, business leaders and the increasingly right-wing media explain poignantly that we are “mortgaging our children's future.” Their remedies? Cut welfare so the 20% of Canadian children living in poverty will fare worse. Privatize TVOntario so children can watch mindless cartoons and commercials. Underfund schools so children will learn less. Slash college budgets so less or more grown-up children can have their higher education dumbed down to the bottom line.
McQuaig dissents. She doesn't deny nor dismiss the debt but she is clear about why it exists and how it is used as an excuse to abandon our culture and abolish our social programs.
Her technique - were she to use ponderous academic jargon - might be called the deconstruction of the hegemonic discourses of late capitalism. She eschews the language but not the project. She pokes large holes in the corporate myths that have captured not only financiers, traders and manufacturers but also many working Canadians. Blending wit, historical allusion and solid economic analysis, she reveals that budget crises are not financially-driven but ideologically-invented. Proposed solutions, she argues, will impoverish not rescue the majority of citizens. As educators, we are being invited to help produce a certified underclass.
Howard A. Doughty is Editor of The College Quarterly.