A quarter-century has flown by since I stood in admiration of Gary Teeple's first major academic publication. We were in our late 20s. He was near the centre and I was at the periphery of a loose network of people interested in the restoration of Canadian political economy when his anthology, Capitalism and the National Question in Canada, appeared. It set the tone for much of the debate on the Canadian left throughout the 1970s. It dealt critically with nationalism, class structure and creative alternatives to liberal ideological hegemony. Now past fifty, I am gratified to see that Gary has again addressed the question of capitalist development. This time, however, he has done so from a broader perspective, both in style and in substance.
Capitalism and the National Question in Canada was the first book sponsored by SPEC (Studies in the Political Economy of Canada), a group formed from the remains of the University League for Social Reform. There was then some thought that trenchant economic criticism and lissome political activism could effect significant social change in Canada. That, as they say, was then; this is undeniably now.
Neo-liberalism agenda - thought out by Milton Friedman and his cronies at the University of Chicago and tried out under the cruel military dictatorship in Chile - has now captured the political agenda throughout most of the industrial world. Governments, whether nominally conservative, liberal or social democratic, have everywhere embraced the social fictions of government spending as waste, lawlessness as individual vandalism and corruption as welfare fraud.
The result is a sulky, mean and baffled citizenry that is quick to fight within itself for economic crumbs while failing to develop a coherent analysis of the causes of its plight. Gary Teeple, in Globalization and the Decline of Social Policy puts forward such an analysis in clear, accessible and persuasive terms.
Among the important points that he makes are that unrestrained market forces are incompatible with democratic institutions, much less with economic equity. The prosperous working and middle classes of the past half century face decomposition as inevitably as the ecosystem faces degradation. The product is the politics of anomaly as; throughout North America, business interests court “communist” China; in Canada, NDP governments embrace fiscal restraint; and in the U.S., consumer advocate Ralph Nader admits that of the Republican aspirants for the Presidency only Pat Buchanan (who otherwise endorses such oxymorons as “creation science”) speaks to issues of working people.
Ironic, if not anomalous, is Teeple's choice for a closing quotation. He brings forward neither Marx nor Lenin but F.A. Hayek, one of this century's rare right-wing intellectuals capable of lucidity. Hayek warned of the decline of individual freedom under socialism and Teeple brings Hayek's hatred of tyranny to bear on contemporary events. The emerging tyranny is not that of proletarian dictatorship, however, but of corporate economic control against which no political dissent will be plausible for we may already have lost our capacity for civil discourse.
As educators in Ontario colleges, we are being asked to trade an educational tradition of genuine thought and discussion for technocratic training for a marketplace that is no market at all, just a corporate exercise in human resource management. Teeple explains well how globalization has reshaped government and business. His insights and explication can help students understand why we face an agenda of privatization, restructuring, the internationalization of production, and the abandonment of social programs in health, education and welfare. He can also help us understand the roles we are invited to play as cheerleaders for this so-called “triumph” of capitalism and as apologists for the new tyranny. Those who dissent must remember that they also have traditions from which to draw inspiration.
Howard A. Doughty teaches Natural Science and Canadian Studies at Seneca College in King City, and is editor of The College Quarterly.