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This is not what they gave their lives for

On Remembrance Day, we think about the sacrifices made by those who fought in the world wars that enveloped the globe in horrors unthinkable to those of us who came afterward. We remember, and we hope that we’ll never go through that again.

But what would those who died in battle, and indeed those who served in general, make of the world they’re credited with saving in the name of democracy and freedom?

I’m thinking specifically of the corporatism that has eroded the middle class, subverted democracy, fostered inequality, stolen billions of dollars and led to an unproductive economy where money and power is increasingly held by a small minority? Sound harsh? Not when you think that wars were fought to stamp out fascism, but today we’re getting more of just that. How’s that, you say?

“Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.”

Not the words of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which aims to counter undue corporate influence in politics, but of one Benito Mussolini, written in 1935’s The Doctrine of Fascism. He’s someone who knew a thing or two about fascism – as veterans of the Second World War could tell you.

The burgeoning middle class, equitable society and philosophy of the common good that developed in the postwar years were a testament to the values of those who came through war, financial excess, Depression and another great war: they were eager to do away with the scourges of the past and to create a better society for themselves and, more pressingly for their children.

The next three decades saw that happen. The last three have seen that steadily eroded by the rise of corporatism, including its wholesale purchase of the political system, particularly in the U.S., an undemocratic trend that is being reflected here by Harper government policies.

Sure, Canada has been spared some of the economic impacts seen south of the border and elsewhere, but that’s nothing the current government can take credit for. We’ve been sheltered partly because of our resources and, more to the point in a discussion of the economic crisis, by the fact previous governments refused to go along with the kind of deregulation we see in the States.

We weren’t immune to the meltdown in 2008. Despite what the federal government claims, we did have a bank bailout of our own.

The federal Conservatives used the public’s money through the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation to bail out Canada’s big banks by buying $70 billion of home mortgages from the banks, and also used the Bank of Canada and other subsidy programs to help the banks, for a total of almost $200 billion in subsidies in 2009 – yet they did not require anything from the banks in return,” notes Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.

In looking at the anti-corporatism backlash that’s developed, organizations such as Democracy Watch see the fruits of years of deregulation and lack of government oversight.

“No matter what issue or problem in Canada concerns you, making the largest corporations and banks in Canada more responsible and accountable will help win the changes and solutions you are seeking. A total of 155,000 corporations and 40 banks that the federal government regulates are not effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, responsibly or to prevent waste,” he says.

“Incredibly, the laws and enforcement of parking a car illegally are stronger than most corporate responsibility and bank accountability laws and enforcement systems in Canada, and in some cases the penalties for parking illegally are higher than for corporate executives who act dishonestly, unethically, secretively, irresponsibly or wastefully.”

Those who argue that regulation only hinders capitalism – often the same people who wrongly equate capitalism with democracy – miss the point of a so-called free market. The idea of a free-market economy is to let the market decide what will be made and in what quantity, rather than the central planning of the communist system, for instance. It doesn’t, however, mean free from regulation. How many people would argue that business should be “free” to use slaves or child labour? That was once the case in the West, but has been regulated out of the mix.

Once we’ve established that the market is an artificial construct that we’ve devised, we’re free to shape it in such a way that it provides only benefits to society, not harms. The deregulation that fuelled the corporatism of the last few decades – think of the rise of globalization, monopolies and oligarchies and the resultant decline in our quality of life – followed a postwar boom that was shaped by a market system that was devised with the broad public in mind. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but far more equitable than is the case today. Deregulation killed that. New regulations controlling the excesses of the financial sector are needed to put us back on track.

The same goes for removing corporate influence in the political system.

That’s the kind of democracy many died for and that others fight for today.

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