Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Note to Self: Canadians Really Like First-Past-The-Past Voting

Truth be told, I was a political activist that worked for about ten years trying to get the voting system changed so that each and every vote cast in an election would count and that the composititon of our elected legislatures would reflect accurately the manner in which people had actually voted.

It was the democratic thing to do.

Now that my days of a political activist are over, I have started to think it was nothing more than a wild goose chase that attracts delusional optimists.

Deep down, Canadians really like the first-past-the-post voting system because it allows them to be what they truly want to be -- Canadian.

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Democracy, after all, is very messy.  Try to find a consensus with all those opposing views.  Good luck with that.

Also, it is very time consuming: keeping up on all the issues and going to meetings.  Who has the time?  Trying to live the Canadian version of the American dream is very demanding.  A house in the burbs means two incomes, two cars, daycare, and a day planner. 

What Canadians really want is to go about doing what it is they do without being burdened with having to get involved in the collective decision making process other than every once in while having to cast a ballot. 

On second thought, looking at the plummeting participation rates during elections, it appears that even showing up to vote is too much of a burden for about half the electorate.

And that's the beauty of the first-past-the-post voting system.  It reduces the complexity of politics to a simple choice between the red or the blue party.  Collectively, we are empowered to throw the bums out if we so desire because, in reality, what we do when we are voting using the first-past-the-post system is decide whether or not to give the ruling party another mandate.

What could be easier?  Minimum engagement yet with maximum effect.  It takes less than 40% of the popular vote to form a majority, and a 50% popular vote for the party in opposition effectively reduces the former governing party to a handful of seats. 

That will teach the bastards a lesson they'll never forget.

Fuck democracy.  I'm a suburbocrat and the less time I have to put up with the bullshit that passes for politics here in the Great White North, so much the better.

I have better things to do like clean the pool, mow the lawn, clear the driveway, wash the dishes, whip up a meal, get an oil change, remodel the kitchen, take the dog for a walk, drive my son to his hockey practice, watch Netflix, and put on weight.

After a hard day's work, I got enough on my plate, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Burbocracy Drives North American Politics

The most tangible cornerstone that lies at the heart of the American Dream, at the heart of middle-class life, is the chance to own your own home.     (Barack Obama)

Before I get started, here's a quick glance at the history of political geography.

During the classical period, politics referred to a set of human activities circumscribed by a polis, an urban centre and it's outlying regions in proximity to the city walls. According to Aristotle, a man should be able to walk across the polis in about a day.  This meant that chances were that a citizen would be able to recognize a good number of his fellow citizens, bringing about a network of "weak ties" between them, and this formed the basis of democratic rule.

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With the rise of empires, the basis of political rule was a hierarchical order backed by military force.  The vast majority of people were subject to imperial rule, and the art of politics was largely the ability to advance one's interest during a time where life was nasty, brutish, and short.

Over time, empires gave way to nations, and citizens within a circumscribed territory regained some influence over who would govern them and the political agendas to be followed, butter or bullets.

In North America, during the second half of the twentieth century there was a great migration to the expanding housing developments on the fringes of the city limits that required a car to get around.  At first, sometimes referred to as the good old days, a family could afford to buy a house in the burbs with only one breadwinner, but by the time I bought my first house after graduating from university, it would require two salaries to get a piece of the American dream.

In my opinion, we would do well to forget Jane Jacobs and ignore the retro-urbanists who blather on about the creative class.  What drives politics in North America and in its ever expanding sphere of influence around the world is people's overwhelming desire to buy the biggest fucking house in the most expensive development that they can afford to live in, with a set of wheels that matches the house.  According to the latest census statistics, approximately 70% of Americans and Canadians live in the burbs.

What do you think brought about the near collapse of the global financial system and the subsequent Great Recession?  Nothing less than a giant Ponzi scheme in which "subprime" mortgages for houses were pawned off on people who could never afford to live in them, and the debt was then sliced and diced and sold to clueless investors as Triple A grade securities according to Wall Street's rating agencies.  When it came to light that many of these securities were worthless, the scam came to an end, the global economy tanked, and the future of an entire generation was cast into doubt.

Speaking about the lost generation, much has been written about the millennials as being different in their political views as compared to previous generations.  Certainly, their access to suburbia has been hindered by a weak economy that does not produce a sufficient number of good paying jobs and their level of personal debt, but I wonder if the prognostications of the rise the new left is not somewhat premature.  Yes, it will take them longer to gain access to the cornerstone of the American dream, the house in the burbs, but once they're in, slowly but surely their political beliefs will reflect where they live, and the Occupy Wall Street moment will be eventually captured in a film or in a sit com that they can watch nostalgically on their big, flat-screen, HD television, while sipping on a glass of Chardonnay, the kids sleeping soundly upstairs.

Remember, since rural regions are overwhelmingly conservative and the urban areas are predominantly progressive, they effectively cancel each other out.  As a result, it will be the suburbocrats that will decide the outcome of the next round of general elections.

How will they be swayed?  Tax deductions for home renovations?  State-subsidized child care?  Tougher sentences for dog owners who don't scoop the poop?

It's anybody's guess how the votes will be bought, but at the end of the day and when all the votes are counted, suburbia will remain North America's promised land.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Will the Collapse of the Middle Class Bring About Democracy in America?

As the twenty-aughts gave way to the twenty-teens, it became readily apparent that the recovery from the Great Recession was not working its way throughout the entire population.  As was the case before the onset, the top 1% of revenue earners continued to take the lion's share of the nation's economic gains while the rest of the nation struggled to recoup their mounting losses.  Moreover, a college education, widely considered to be the gateway to the middle class, also became prohibitively expensive, thereby extinquishing the hope for a great many to live the American dream.
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Essentially, many two-income families can no longer generate enough income to retain a semblance of a middle class lifestyle, especially those families where one of the breadwinners lost a job with health benefits and subsequently fell ill.  In short, the economic well-being of the majority of Americans has become far more precarious, and the American government, both at the state and federal level, has been unable to adequately respond to the plight of its ordinary citizens, choosing instead to support the principles of corporate wellfare.  For example, big banks and automobile companies were bailed out with public funds while millions of Americans who were left to fend for themselves lost their homes through foreclosure as a result of predatory lending practices.

For delusional optimists like myself, these turn of events could appear as the harbinger of a populist response in America that would take back political power from a corrupt political elite to redistribute it among the nation's citizens in order to form a goverment, in Lincoln's words of, by, and for the people.

Fat chance! 

Americans no longer have the ability to self-organize.  The march on Washington that gave Martin Luther King his captive audience for his famous, "I have a Dream" speech happened fifty years ago.  Now, the hordes mob the WallMarts in order to get the best deals on Black Friday, trampling to death any unfortunate employee that might get in their way.

As well, the meritocracy robs those would benefit from the democratization of America's political institutions of its potential leaders.  Moreover, the protestant ethos of people get what they deserve has been, for the most part, internalized by the population at large, including those, through no fault of their own, that were born into unfortunate circumstance.  Even the victims of social inequality blame themselves.

Finally, other than some folsky image of a New England town hall meeting and some warm fuzzy feelings linked to the republican ideals expressed by the founding fathers, most Americans cannot imagine what it would mean to take part in democratic governance.  They have been and will continue to be ruled by a plutocracy, and unless there is a severe external shock to the standing order, for instance, a collapse of the global economy or catastrophic climate change, things will move forward pretty much as they always have in what the American political class, read the top 1%, refers to as "the greatest nation on earth."

Americans wouldn't have it any other way.