Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Canada's NDP Rejects Suicide

Barry Weisleder was a candidate for president of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP), and he authors Socialist Action's (SA) report on the recent NDP convention in Edmonton. It is very hard to take him seriously, but we will try.

The problems begin in the lede:
Will the left seize this golden opportunity to fight for an anti-capitalist agenda and make North America’s only mass, union-based political party a weapon in the fight against austerity and climate catastrophe?
"Austerity" presumably refers to the supposed increase in poverty across Canada (mostly a myth, I'd argue, but that's a topic for another day), the solution of which is to give more people jobs at higher wages to raise their standard of living. Ultimately, Mr. Weisleder claims he wants to reduce poverty.

"Climate catastrophe" is the dire prediction, maintained by the far Left, that we're all doomed--and it's all the fault of the fossil fuel industry. There is very little evidence that "climate catastrophe" is a likely outcome of whatever climate change is occurring. The best argument one can make is to invest in some insurance against the possibility. But Mr. Weisleder and his comrades are so certain of imminent disaster that any compromise or common sense solution is for them impossible.

Mr. Weisleder must surely understand that Canada's is a natural resource based economy. Most recently its fortunes have been tied to oil--the Loonie's value has closely tracked the price of crude. More generally, Canada depends on an array of resources: mining (gold, nickel), lumber, agriculture, and hydroelectric power. Canada (along with Australia) is unique in the world in that it has managed to build a first-world economy from natural resources--compare it with, for example, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Congo.

Even an 80% decline in oil prices has not doomed Canadians to poverty, unlike, e.g., Venezuela.

But Mr. Weisleder wants to put an end to all that. He wants to shut down the fossil fuel industry altogether and replace it with some ill-defined (and non-existent) "green energy." Presumably he means mostly solar and wind power, neither of which will ever play more than a niche role in meeting the world's energy needs. But leaving that impracticality aside, consider the consequences.

Among the more egregious failings of Marxist economics (and not just Marxists, but also Donald Trump) is that they don't recognize the importance of trade. A Canadian gold miner earns a living only because he can trade gold for food, gas, cars, and plane tickets, etc. But if nobody wanted gold, then all he'd have is a hunk of yellow rock. The value of gold depends solely on its ability to be traded for other things. Economics is not about wealth or value. It is all about trade. Political parties (and candidates) who think we will get richer by restricting trade are just flat-out wrong.

And that's the rub. Even if solar energy were practical, and even if hundreds of square kilometers of the Canadian arctic were covered with solar panels, the power is not readily exportable. That is, unlike Alberta oil, solar energy can't be traded and will produce no income. Without exports there will be no imports. And then Canada becomes as poor as Venezuela.

So when Mr. Weisleder claims that "green energy" is good for the economy, he is simply wrong. Please, sir, tell us what Canada's exports will be? How will your country earn money to buy fruits and vegetables from warmer climes?

Do Canadians really want to reduce their standard of living to that of the 19th Century?

Indeed, Mr. Weisleder is against anybody being able to earn a living. Miners, oil workers, hydroelectric workers, and likely many more are to be put out of an income-producing job. Instead Mr. Weisleder wants to revert to "local agriculture" (aka subsistence farming) and, bizarrely, high-speed rail.

High speed rail? How does that make sense in a huge country with perhaps the lowest population density in the world? From what income stream (i.e., exports) is this supposed to be paid for? It's a completely wacko idea, though personally I'd love to ride the express train from Chicoutimi to Chilliwack. At a billion dollars per passenger it'd be a marvelous ride--comparable to a trip to the moon.

Mr. Weisleder's goals are contradictory. On the one hand his green agenda will drive everybody into deep poverty, Venezuela style, by denying Canadians any right to earn an honest living. On the other hand, his solution to poverty is to waste money--to create make-work projects on a grand scale, and then invest in things (e.g., high-speed rail) for which there is no hope of any economic payoff.

Mr. Weisleder represents a faction in the NDP called the Socialist Caucus (SC), loosely allied with another faction, Momentum. Depressingly, he boasts that the SC recruited 70 new members, out of 1700 people attending the convention. Also,
Jointly with Momentum, the SC ran 16 candidates for party executive and federal council posts. Vote results, ranging from 5.2% to 15%, revealed a significant hard-core radical left base. It also indicated that, while the broad membership wants change, it is not yet convinced of the need for a Marxist programme. But the SC will continue to make the case for revolutionary change.
So within the already left wing NDP, the SC has had only modest success.

Similarly bothersome, "[d]elegates also voted about 60 per cent in favour of conducting a grassroots discussion of the environmental and social justice proposals in the Leap Manifesto." The latter is a completely ridiculous proposal, doubling down on Mr. Weisleder's contradictory program. The subtitles give it away:
A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another

We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory
The Call is petty-bourgeois, hippie sentimentality, and the premise is completely wrong.

Fortunately most of the NDP doesn't go along with this silliness. The Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, is the only NDP member who occupies an office of any consequence. Surely she represents, among others, all the hardworking men and women of Fort McMurray--that burned out, far-north town in the middle of Alberta's oil patch. Abolishing fossil fuels is certainly not going to help them any.

Fort McMurray is best served by building the Keystone Pipeline, giving them direct access to US markets, and via the Gulf of Mexico to the broader world. But Mr. Weisleder's comrades in the US have sabotaged that project, forcing Canadians to come up with alternative options. During the 2015 election campaign Tom Mulcair, leader of the party in the federal parliament, advocated building a pipeline from Alberta to Thunder Bay on Lake Superior. From there oil could be shipped out via the St. Lawrence. This is known as Pipeline East.

An alternative proposal is to build west from Alberta to Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast--Pipeline West. Ms. Notley--honestly speaking for her constituents--is calling for a pipeline from west to east, presumably including both of the above.

But the best solution for everybody is the Keystone Pipeline. If Mr. Weisleder were sincere about reducing poverty in Alberta (and Canada) he'd enthusiastically support it. He should demand that his comrades in the US stop hurting Canada by denying them access to markets. Instead, Mr. Weisleder thinks Canadians should count on the free unicorns and magic windmills described in the Leap Manifesto.

I'm glad that saner voices prevail--even in the Leftist NDP.

Down With Poverty!

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