As the economic crisis deepens worldwide, I'm having trouble fathoming the sheer chutzpah of our political and financial leaders.
You'd think the folks who hyped multi-billion-dollar bailouts and one-night-stand stimulus programs and who noticed that these didn't do much to stimulate the world's stock of human, social or natural capital and who know they didn't keep a banking and credit crisis from escalating into a full-blown economic crisis would feel embarrassed, apologetic and keen to make amends.
Since I haven't yet seen a politician, auto magnate or banker fess up to spectacular misspending of public savings, I can only conclude that chutzpah means never having to say you're sorry.
It's just plain cruel that the giveaways to big business were followed by takeaways from vulnerable people in need of social programs, and that those who didn't benefit from bailouts were forced to make up for the money gone missing.
And silly me, I keep waiting for some Bay Street big shots to read the riot act to wack jobs who want to save the economy by eliminating important jobs and vaporizing billions of dollars of spending power. Or for some Wall Street mogul to give the Tea Party its marching orders for wrecking a national economy's reputation. Or for some banking lord on Threadneedle Street to warn British Conservatives that massive cutbacks undermine efforts to train people for a complex economy.
Despite the dissent of a few economists, pundits and financial leaders (like Warren Buffett, who wants the rich to pay more taxes), what amazes me is the quick consensus that's been formed about who will be riding steerage in the new ship of state.
Enough members of the elite used to be interested in a healthy, educated workforce and social peace to ensure that governments initiated policies fostering prosperity for all.
But no moguls, lords, big shots or barons have stepped forward, and now it's finally dawning on me that today's financial class doesn't give a fig for the long-term economic health of any one nation state. They only care about consumers, wherever they may be in the world, which explains why they feel no compunctions about their historically low tax rate and why they don't raise a peep about cutbacks to services that make the domestic population poorer.
Corporate producers now feed their profit margins by outsourcing jobs once performed by locals to countries with low incomes and few enviro controls, or by importing the best-educated and healthiest workers from those countries to displace domestic employees.
This failure to care, I've come to believe, is the story behind the story of deep dysfunction in established national (UK and U.S. for example) and international (UN and OECD, for instance) governments. They're telling everybody loud and clear: your problem is not my problem.
And they speak their truth. The costs and burdens of running society in a way that stabilizes it have been downloaded to municipalities. The "riots" (why isn't a stock market crisis or Tea Party rally called a rich riot?) across England show us how problems caused by lack of investment in human, social and cultural capital come home to roost.
Cities are the level of government where mutual interdependence is most forcefully felt. In the 1800s, everyone who lived in cities, rich and poor, was subject to life-or-death problems caused by fire, disease, sewage, garbage and the like.
This is why government was so readily accepted as the provider of services like sidewalks, trash collection, restaurant inspection, public safety, road maintenance, etc.
This bent remains despite City Hall's current privatization moves. Anyone who complains about the cost of these essentials of our inherently sociable cities has only to consider the costs of not having them - which is why no candidate of any stripe, Tea Party or Gravy Party, ever runs openly on a platform of eliminating civic services.
It's hard to miss the blatant contrast between well-financed national and international government bodies - reluctant to promise basic protection of our economic, social and environmental well-being - and under-financed city governments that must do their best in the everyday.
Cities will soon be the decisive governments. Old-style national governments used to call control of banking, resources and heavy manufacturing the commanding heights they needed to own or regulate. New-style municipalities may well identify water, soil, food, shelter, education and social services as the essential foundations of the future.
Toronto has long been a leader in setting the terms as cities respond to their expanded mandate on public health, community development and green living. Those campaigning right now to win support for these notions of city responsibility and to uphold existing programs in the face of cuts have their finger on the pulse of a major new political force about to emerge on the world scene.