Sunday, December 30, 2012

Crystal Ball Gazing, 2013 Edition, Part 1: The Paradigm

2012 has come to an end, and it’s time for me to turn my attention to 2013. Gazing into my crystal ball, I’m first going to share with you a little bit of information about the lens through which I’m viewing potential future events, and then I’m going to make a few predictions – some of which will be easy (Justin Trudeau becomes the next federal Liberal Leader), and others, well, not so much. Suffice it to say that 2013 won’t be pretty, but it won’t be the end of the world either, as many thought 2012 would be!

Paradigm Shift

Before I get going, however, let’s turn to the lens through which I typically use to view the world, and which my predictions for 2013 will be considered. The fact is that we all have unique lenses for viewing the events of our lives, be they personal events or global. Most of the time we don’t question the assumptions built into our world-view. Every now and then, however, something might happen which forces us to reconsider our understanding of those assumptions, and adjust our lens accordingly. Usually, such adjustments are relatively minor, if a little disruptive. Every now and then, though, they can be cataclysmic. Eventually, through a combination of small adjustments and cataclysmic shifts, our worldview can change over time.

The same is true on a global scale, as new ideas, technology and understanding are introduced. The rate of acceptance of the “new” is often determinative of whether there is to be a global paradigm shift. For example, the notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun has been around for thousands of years, yet it took Copernicus, Kepler, Gallileo and others (and thanks to the Scientific Method) to introduce the idea to the world in such a way that a solar-centred universe gradually became the paradigm in which we understand our place in the cosmos. And even then, it was literally hundreds of years before the paradigm shifted completely for the general public.

Neo-Liberal Economics

Will 2013 finally be the year in which our socio-political and economic paradigm actually begins to shift, as so many have hoped for and many more have feared? I don’t think so, despite the a growing mass of evidence which suggests that we must be ready to accommodate a new paradigm, as the old one hasn’t been working out too well for most of us for quite a while now. But it’s not going to happen in 2013. The powers which are arrayed against the coming of a new, scientifically-based world view to replace our neo-liberal economic and political systems (hatched in 1944 from the Bretton-Woods agreements back at the end of the Colonial Age) will continue to exert too much control.

It’s important to make this point, I believe, because while so many of us have moved on from the old “Left vs. Right” political dichotomy and from rapturously embracing the mantra of “economic growth at all cost”, most of us aren’t there yet. In fact, at the end of 2012, science-based sustainable economics continues to be debased by a majority of western citizens and all of our governments, despite the economic collapse of 2008 having happened over four years ago now. That collapse, of course, was widely seen as a normal hiccup, from which recovery has occurred (albeit anaemic recovery), thanks to stimulus spending. Too many continue to believe that the collapse happened in isolation, or perhaps was brought about by the U.S. housing market bubble burst. That there were a number of interconnected reasons for the collapse, having everything to do with the failure of our neo-liberal economic system known as “free market capitalism” hasn’t come to be as well understood as it otherwise probably should be. Or, more likely, there are many who understand the reasons why the Great Recession happened, but most of them have an interest in pointing causal fingers in other directions.

Vested Interests

Of course, the powers that have a vested interest in maintaining our failing economic system continue to have a lot of influence on all of the levers of power which could otherwise be used to actually bring about change. Even with the rise of social media, the mainstream media remains extremely influential for the creation of public opinion (and will for some time). And although more people are clamouring for transparent democracy, governments around the world are moving in the opposite direction, towards corporatism and secrecy). And while we continue to aspire for the economic independence to find our own ways in the world, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and debt, accrued by both individuals and the governments which collect taxes and provide services, continues to shackle those dreams.

Indeed, the levers of power wielded by the neo-liberal interests in the form of public opinion, public policy and economic slavery, will remain powerful tools for the status quo for the foreseeable future, in my opinion. While sops might be thrown to those asking for social and political reform, the neo-liberal system will remain the dominant ideology until a critical mass of opponents is finally motivated to do something about it. And since “doing something about it” will likely require a certain degree of economic and physical risk to one’s well-being (and the well-being of one’s family), the emergence of a new paradigm isn’t going to occur until the old one buckles under its own weight.

Austerity and the Long Emergency

When will the new paradigm (the “Sustainability Paradigm”) begin to be implemented? I’m increasingly doubtful that it ever will be, due to the powers which are arrayed against it and the money they command. In short, the 1% (or more correctly, the 1% of the 1%) can continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their expanded free-market economic system by controlling the levers of power. While some reform may happen (example: changing the way in which First Nations are treated; imposition of carbon pricing), the paradigm itself as expressed through Bretton-Woods is not at risk of falling.

The failing neo-liberal paradigm will remain even as the world continues to find its way through the beginning years of the long emergency, which started in 2008 because our economic system is not sustainable in the long term. The free-market system must be fuelled by economic growth, and on a planet of finite resources, it simply can’t happen. That we’ve come to rely on non-renewable fossil fuels for the majority of our energy needs will just hasten the collapse of the system – at least until we get serious about moving to non-renewables. And we are far from getting serious about replacing a failing paradigm with a sustainable one.

The paradigm shift will inevitably come, but it won’t be this year, or soon. People around the globe have already started to notice, and protests which may appear to be about a diversity of issues, such as Occupy, Arab Spring, democracy protests in Russia, Ukraine, China, and anti-austerity protests in Europe – are actually about how power to decide our collective future isn’t meted out fairly. The democratic deficit, income inequality (and the economic system which creates and sustains inequality), and the end of inexpensive energy will only exacerbate the need for austerity measures in coming years. Remember, if economic growth can’t be found through wealth creation, it will need to be found somewhere else. Corporations will continue to dial-back wages to turn a profit for shareholders. To do so, Unions must be broken and the public must be pitted against itself in a race for the bottom. There is, for the most part, no other way to ensure growth.

Should another global recession strike, austerity will be the only way to grow the economy, as stimulus money just simply won’t be there (it wasn’t really there in 2008-09 either. It was created as debt – which is to say we borrowed it from our children. Next time, though, more people will be paying attention to government spending thanks to debtloads already being at an all-time high – there is no more room for debt). In the current neo-liberal economic paradigm, we have no further outs we can use, other than austerity.

We should fear the coming economic recession, but not as much as we should fear the one after it.

Against this backdrop, Part 2 of by blog will explore how some of the larger trends of 2013 may play themselves out.

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)  

No comments: