It's a lucky break that a new report on Ontario's economic problems has been released in time to be digested and commented on by candidates for the leadership of both Ontario's and Canada's Liberal party.
In one neat 75-page package, the provincially funded Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress provides an excellent summary of almost everything that's wrong with neo-liberalism. Who could ask for a better measure of what standard our would-be Lib leaders will be using to guide government policy?
(I use the term "neo-liberal" to refer to literate people who generally believe economics accounts for almost everything that is valuable in society and that market forces must be liberated to create a dynamic economy.)
The report is called A Push For Growth, and the growth-pushers want Ontario to buck up (yes, they say we work far too few hours and take far too many holidays compared to the Yanks) and get innovative so we can close the productivity gap that keeps us lagging behind our peer U.S. states.
The ones they hold up as beacons include North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey and Illinois. Cancel our December 26 holiday and our paid family leave programs for new parents so we can catch up! (To be fair, New York, Massachusetts and California also productively kick butt, but that's like comparing apples and oranges given that these had no auto meltdown and no northern crisis from declining mining and pulp mill sectors, not to mention their historic and imperial advantages.)
Odd, but I find those who talk about the importance of competitiveness often have academic tenure or The Bank of Dad to rely on. And the measures the pushers are pushing - lower corporate and more regressive sales taxes, faster urbanization, fewer incentives for small and medium businesses and more breaks for big ones - aren't exactly bold and excitingly innovative.
I also find it strange that a report like this doesn't consider some other ways to jack up productivity. The Ontario government itself points out that the province loses $4.9 billion a year to diabetes. Other reputable groups estimate $1 billion lost to air pollution and somewhere between $10 and $13 billion a year to poverty. Not to mention losses from allowing massive youth unemployment and underemployment to continue. (In the UK, this is estimated to cost $12 billion a year, including lifetime "scarring costs" associated with losing crucial career-starting years.)
Why not address these problems instead of obsessing about better software for service workers, one of the few practical suggestions the growth-pushers put forward?
It just happened that on December 3, U of T's highly innovative New College hosted five young food entrepreneurs. One, Matt Basile, a chef who can't afford a restaurant, is living in his mom's basement while he works like crazy to set up a mobile pop-up business, including a food truck called Fidel Gastro. With a name like that, he must be an unproductive badass.
The former ad copy writer calls himself a "rebel without a kitchen," claims that "creative thinking is the new business model," insists that "food [work] must be fun," and (I imagine the task force competitionists gagging) believes in "collaboration and partnering rather than competition, so everyone succeeds."
That spirit of innovation is what we need a report on.
Question to Lib leadership candidates: if the neo-liberals are right that the public sector shouldn't do what the private one does better, why were tax dollars wasted on this report duplicating info from the privately funded Fraser and CD Howe Institutes?