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To determine the real agenda

Last week I wrote about public anger in relation to the U.S. midterm elections, noting that Americans seem far angrier than we are. Later that week, we had a taste of what a public backlash can do, in the form of B.C. Premier Gordon Campell’s decision to resign – his party and his personal popularity were in a freefall due to the HST.

There are, of course, parallels here in Ontario, despite our more subdued reaction to the Hated Sales Tax.

Argue if you will about the merits of the Harmonized Sales Tax, but politically it’s an unsalable idea. Dalton McGuinty hasn’t seen the kind of anti-HST movement in evidence on the west coast, but the underlying resentment is everywhere.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. The only thing worse than current taxes are new taxes, and the HST has become a focus point for overburdened citizens in this weak economy. We’ve seen none of the promised benefits, but we’ve certainly been paying out more money since July 1. Every month, a new batch of bills reminds us of just that.

McGuinty continues to cite the upside of HST: reduced tax burdens will make businesses more competitive, meaning more exports and lower prices for consumers. The province bandies about a figure of 600,000 new jobs.

It’s another instance of politicians telling us something is good for us. We don’t believe them. Nor should we.

A wide assortment of government policies with sweeping impacts on our lives – taxation, fiscal policy, free trade, labour legislation, environmental protection among them – are drafted for the benefit of a few, not the population they purport to serve.

Issues like the HST, GST, free trade and trickle-down economics don’t pass the smell test, yet we’re repeatedly told we’ll be better off … usually down the road. If that argument fails, we’re treated to threats that if the policies aren’t followed, we’ll be even worse off than we are. Different tactic, same losing results.

Why don’t we believe politicians and the business elites? The answer is a simple question: cui bono?

Who benefits from the policies touted over the last few decades? Corporations and the wealthy. This isn’t Marxist dogma, but cold, hard fact.

Increasingly, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The middle class has been going nowhere.

Using census data, Statistics Canada shows that between 1980 and 2005, those at the top saw their earnings rise more than 16 per cent, while Canadians in the bottom fifth of the scale saw their incomes drop by 20 per cent.

The disparities are even larger in the U.S., where the impacts of Reaganomics – including corporate tax cuts and deregulation – have been more pronounced. Still, you have masses of the uniformed swell the ranks of the Tea Party movement.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Chris Hedges describes this phenomenon succinctly: “The political theater funded by the corporate state is composed of hypocritical and impotent liberals, the traditional moneyed elite, and a disenfranchised and angry underclass that is being encouraged to lash out at the bankrupt liberal institutions and the government that once protected them.”

Critical of U.S. policies, Hedges has long denounced “ruthless totalitarian capitalism.” In a recent column, he equates the manipulation of the Tea Party types with the actions of pre-war fascist states in Europe, bemoaning the failure of those who should know better – what he calls the liberal class – to fight corporate statism that’s led to the kind of dumbing-down of the populace I talked about last week.

His latest book, in fact, deals with just this issue. From Death of the Liberal Class:
“[T]he assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.”

In essence, nobody is minding the store. And those with the agenda – the corporate elite – are running the show, unchecked. That sounds like something out of a union sloganeering handbook, but anything more than a cursory look at who benefits from the way governments do business – cui bono, remember? – makes it clear that it’s not us. We’ve lost control. And we’re paying for it. Literally.

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