Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Take

Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis have a movie out now called "The Take," which is about a town in Argentina who refuses to allow its factory to close. The people who live in the town take over operation of the plant and begin to self-manage and even self-govern. The story is kind of a metaphor for the type of society that Klein and Lews believe is good.

Steve Maich wrote an article in MacLean's about why the movie was untruthful and down-right crappy.

So I wrote him asking him what his views were, and we're now having an exchange, shown below:

Andrew wrote:

"I have not seen The Take, nor do I know a lot about Argetina's political situation, but I was under the impression that at the heartof Klein and Lewis' message was this:

the more the wealth is spread around, the higher the standard ofliving is for all. Or more succinctly, power to the people. Don't read this as communist drivel. I'm no communist, and I like privatization. I like smaller government, too.

But what I don't like is the growing disparity of rich and poor, and the constant shift towards monopolized industries, particularly if those industries make a habit out of exploiting environmental laws in poor countries.
So despite her perhaps flawed packaging, I think Naomi's got a grand vision. And I'm curious to know where you stand on the issue. As it were, your column was effective in slicing up Klein and Lewis, but it did little to shed any light on your position."

Steve wrote:

"Andrew,

Thanks for the note. I agree that growing disparities between rich and poor, and environmental degredation are serious problems. But you say you like smaller government and privatization, but the goal of spreading wealth more equitably through public and cooperative ownership is is diametrically opposed to those goals. You may not want it to be so, but the economic model Klein and Lewis propose IS communism. they are smart and saavy enough to know not to label it that way, but that's what it is. Its appeal has been the same throughout its history - it seems so fair and just. the trouble is, it doesn't fit with our conception of individual rights, and it totally ignores thhe role of human nature.

It's true that I didn't explain my basic perspective, so here it is: The left has always attacked capitalism as the root of all evil and injustice in the world. I believe that it is actually the corruption of capitalist principles that are the problem. Menem in Argentina called himself a capitalist and yet he skimmed money, rigged contracts and continued to feed the massive public sector unions that allowed him to maintain power. Even after what Klein calls a "massive privatization campaign" more than one third of the country's workforce was employed by the government. (By comparison - Canada's workforce is 19% public - and we have a big public service compared to most countries).

I believe that the best way to alleviate poverty is for developing nations to modernize, use their resources to support their economies, with the help of corporations and honest politicians supporting sustainable growth and a sane fiscal policy. In places where this has worked (places like Ecuador and Botswana) the results are impressive. I believe Klein wants to drag us back into an economic model that has failed everywhere (from the Soviet Union, to Cuba, to Yugoslavia), rather than reforming and working to improve a system that has the potential to work. You're right that the private sector's record in the developing world is not a good one - but that's a failure of politicians as much as CEOs.

In short, the way to alleviate poverty and move toward more equitable living conditions around the world is not to demonize capitalism and corporations, but to harness their power.

That's where I'm coming from.
Steve Maich"

And Andrew wrote back:

"Thanks for your response, Steve.
Like I said, I'm not a fan of communism but where I see the problem is not in the "corruption of capitalism," but a very flaw in the nature of capitalism itself.

And I'm talking about the Ayn Rand sort of capitalism - you know, lassaiz-faire, what's-good-for-the-market-is-good-for-the-people sort of concept.

And my problem is that this sort of capitalist structure has no respect for preservation of resources and no forethought withsustainable development in mind.

I used to hate the institution where a few people who thought theywere smart could decide for those who weren't as smart - this, ofcourse, is analagous to saying that governments can decide for the people what is best for them because they are in power and therefore smarter.

I used to hate the idea of government and its restrictions. Problem is, with capitalism (unfettered), the goal is most often simply to make money, to "improve" the economy. I don't think this attitude is evil, but I just don't think it is smart. Frankly, I have too much respect for life and this planet to support that kind of attitude, since that kind of attitude often neglects any semblance of ecological responsibility.

I see a trend where "improving our economy" equates to "buying more stuff" which equates to "producing more stuff" which equates to"destroying this planet."

At least in Klein and Lewis' vision, they preach local production andconsumption, with an awareness of the consequences to this consumption.

That's where I'm coming from.

Thanks for reading."

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