Thursday, March 14, 2013

Musings on a Train

Waiting for the 1 1/2  hour-late VIA Rail train to Winnipeg. "Why didn't you fly?" you ask. Two reasons: flight phobia and the price. 
          On the way in to Saskatoon, CBC Saskatchewan aired an interview with a faculty member at the University of Regina. It had to do with budget shortfall, cuts at the faculty level and questions about the overstocking of administrative offices. Typical.
            I'm going to a Mennonite Church Canada General Board meeting in Winnipeg, where the most pressing issue these days is falling donation receipts and the threat of budget deficits.
            “Why is every institution short of money these days? It's the same every where you turn,” Agnes asked.
            It reminded me of a report somebody linked to Facebook: Americans aren't aware of the degree to which inequality is rising in that country where the top few percent are becoming increasingly more wealthy while the middle class is stagnating, it's contribution to the economy usurped by owners, executives and shareholders of corporations. The graphics were dramatic.
            What's the upshot? How are the observations about starving institutions and corporate greed related? I'm guessing that our primary social and educational institutions have come to depend on the middle class for their support, for their labour, for their professional abilities and in an environment where the relative wealth and power of the middle class is stagnant or in decline, institutions like universities, churches, libraries, charitable endeavours, etc. are bound to decline lock-step.
            “Who's to blame?” was the obvious question in our conversation. Who indeed? Well, let's think about it for a minute. The distribution of wealth generated by a corporation is determined by its board and management. In a perfect world, the worker would have as much right to set the price for his labour as a corporation has to set its prices and its profit distribution. The trend, however, is to suppress the right to collective bargaining, thereby ensuring that whatever power the labourer and professional once had in the distribution of profits will inevitably erode. 
            I think that's what we're seeing, and it's not pretty.
            Unfortunately, we are corporatising our governments so that the rhetoric coming from Ottawa and Regina is pretty much the same as that coming from corporate boardrooms: more and faster growth, maximize resource exploitation, remove barriers like ecological assessment, local protest, public indignation, etc. What is it we're hearing but the reinvention of the cry of the aristocracy in Downton Abbey, “We must stay strong because it's our duty to be wealthy so we can give employment to servants and tenant farmers.”
            The blame for the starvation of institutions, I fear, lies most clearly with the political/corporate structure; the remedies lie in the ballot box and in the insistence that governments pay more than lip service to the notion that the  decline of Western economies is assured if the middle class is not tended, and tended well. 

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