Friday, March 9, 2018 — Ghosts and Zombies

18-03-09 - BLOG DraugrAccord­ing to the Eyr­byg­g­ja Saga, when the Ice­landic penin­su­la of Snæfell­snes was plagued with ghosts and zom­bies (specif­i­cal­ly Thorir Wood­en-leg and his undead com­pan­ions) dis­rupt­ing dai­ly life and harm­ing the econ­o­my, Snor­ri Þor­gríms­son solved the prob­lem by tak­ing them to court and sub­mit­ting them to tri­al by jury. Always the pro­ce­du­ral­ist, Snor­ri was best known for his fair judge­ments in cas­es of blood feuds, bound­ary dis­putes and the end­less squab­bles over fire­wood. The zom­bie prob­lem was just anoth­er such case. The Eyr­byg­g­ja Saga is not one of the best known of the Ice­landic sagas, but it would appeal to any lawyer or polit­i­cal jour­nal­ist. I read it in 1992, and then twen­ty years lat­er I hiked exten­sive­ly in Snæfell­snes, tread­ing foot­steps in most of the places the saga men­tions. I’m return­ing to Ice­land ten days from now, for anoth­er vis­it to that mag­i­cal lit­tle coun­try, so it’s much on my mind, and so is old Snor­ri. Today, Cana­da is men­aced by a plague of ghosts and zom­bies, orig­i­nat­ing south of the bor­der. The ghosts are an assort­ment of old and stu­pid ideas, the zom­bies are the march­ing morons of Trump­ism and the moral­ly cor­rupt leg­is­la­tors of the U.S. (most­ly Repub­li­can, but quite a few Democ­rats as well). We could use a Snor­ri to sort things out.

Among the old and stu­pid ideas is the belief that the finan­cial sys­tem is “bur­dened with exces­sive reg­u­la­tion”. It’s been a full ten years since the finan­cial melt­down on Wall Street plunged the world into reces­sion. Cana­da and Aus­tralia were the two coun­tries that best weath­ered that cri­sis ― thanks to the reten­tion of reg­u­la­tions in those coun­tries. In the U.S., mil­lions lost their homes and sav­ings. Lit­tle Ice­land was tak­en to the clean­ers. It’s finan­cial sys­tem had been cap­tured by ide­o­log­i­cal zealots espous­ing the crack­pot the­o­ries of Amer­i­can Con­ser­vatism, and in such a small coun­try there were no coun­ter­vail­ing forces to dead­en their impact. The whole coun­try went bank­rupt after these zealots used their country’s bank­ing sys­tem to laun­der cash for Putin’s crim­i­nal empire, and to loot pen­sion plans in Britain and the Nether­lands. To their cred­it, the Ice­landers sub­se­quent­ly had the courage and good sense to jail some of their bankers, though the biggest offend­er man­aged to flee the coun­try. The results were dif­fer­ent in the U.S., where the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion came in on the strength of an under­stand­ing with Wall Street that the banks would be bailed out and none of the crim­i­nals would be pun­ished. But in 2010, that Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act. This pro­vid­ed a small degree of reg­u­la­to­ry over­sight, and lim­it­ed at least some of the pro­pri­etary trad­ing with­in com­mer­cial banks, where­by deposits are used to trade on the bank’s own accounts. It is pre­cise­ly this type of shenani­gans that had cre­at­ed the 2008 crash. Con­ser­v­a­tives screamed in agony at this tepid lev­el of polic­ing finan­cial crime, and they have vowed bloody vengeance ever since it passed. Now, trad­ing on the fact that the Amer­i­can peo­ple have the atten­tion span and mem­o­ry-reten­tion of gold­fish with Alzheimer’s Syn­drome, the Repub­li­can Par­ty (with the help of cor­rupt sell-out Democ­rats) is about to ram through its “Finan­cial CHOICE Act”, which essen­tial­ly wipes out Dodd-Frank and returns every­thing to 2007 ― and it guar­an­tees more and more dis­as­trous finan­cial crash­es in the future. This is all hap­pen­ing in the back­ground, vir­tu­al­ly invis­i­ble because of the con­tin­u­ous cir­cus freak-show in the White House.

Now for the zom­bies. Trump has long been manip­u­lat­ing the cred­u­lous suck­ers who con­sti­tute his “base” with non­sen­si­cal slo­gans and absurd promis­es of impos­si­ble things. The Repub­li­can Par­ty doesn’t care what non­sense he spouts, because they know that Trump has no knowl­edge of any­thing, will say any­thing and then say the oppo­site ten sec­onds lat­er, and has filled the White House with a “team” of igno­rant boobs, cranks, and incom­pe­tent nitwits. The Repub­li­can hier­ar­chy is only con­cerned with pur­su­ing the agen­da of its cor­po­rate back­ers: “tax reform” that will trans­fer all of the country’s wealth into the hands of a tiny aris­toc­ra­cy, and “dereg­u­la­tion” that will destroy all of its func­tion­ing civ­il soci­ety. The end result will be to turn the U.S. into a back­ward hell-hole like the old Sovi­et Union, or its suc­ces­sor, Putin’s Rus­sia. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, they have looked to Putin to help them do this. The lat­est procla­ma­tion from Zom­bie-land is announced tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum. This con­tra­dicts every sup­posed eco­nom­ic notion pushed by Con­ser­v­a­tives for the last half-cen­tu­ry, but it’s meant to drum up more sup­port from the suck­ers who vot­ed for him in the decay­ing indus­tri­al regions. They have been fed years of bull­shit about how their jobs have been destroyed by nasty “lib­er­als” ― instead of the com­bi­na­tion of Con­ser­v­a­tive poli­cies and tech­no­log­i­cal changes that actu­al­ly destroyed them. Most of these suck­ers are con­vinced that these tar­iffs are “against Chi­na” ― a coun­try that Trump and his fam­i­ly have con­sis­tent­ly sought out deals and graft from while at the same time they denounce it. Trump alter­nates between giv­ing rous­ing speech­es to unem­ployed coal work­ers about the evils of trade with Chi­na and then telling his bil­lion­aire bud­dies how much he adores Xi Jin-peng and admires that Com­mu­nist tyrant’s recent ascen­sion to Dic­ta­tor-for-life.

This is basi­cal­ly a zom­bie attack on Cana­da, because China’s sales of steel and alu­minum to the U.S. are insignif­i­cant. It is Cana­da that is over­whelm­ing­ly the largest for­eign sup­pli­er of steel to the U.S., export­ing $4.3 bil­lion of it last year. This is not a “trade imbal­ance” for the U.S., because Cana­da in turn imports even more Amer­i­can steel. This is because there are many dif­fer­ent kinds of steel made in dif­fer­ent forms for dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es, and the indus­tries on both sides of the bor­der that use steel are tight­ly inte­grat­ed. An auto­mo­bile chas­sis may be shipped back and forth between the two coun­tries six or sev­en times before it is com­plet­ed. In the case of the alu­minum indus­try, there is a dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tion. Pro­duc­ing alu­minum requires cheap elec­tric­i­ty and baux­ite mines in places acces­si­ble to mar­itime bulk trade. Cana­da has both. The U.S. has lim­it­ed sup­plies of baux­ite, most of which are not acces­si­ble to the sea. Fur­ther­more, it’s elec­tric­i­ty has long been expen­sive because of com­pli­cat­ed swin­dles in its oli­garchi­cal pow­er indus­try, cre­at­ed large­ly by its Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­o­log­i­cal nut­bars. The U.S. can­not pos­si­bly pro­duce enough alu­minum to sup­ply its indus­tries, and import­ed 3.2 mil­lion met­ric tons of it from Cana­da last year, for a total of $7.2 bil­lion. This is essen­tial to Amer­i­can indus­try and sup­ports hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­can jobs. In fact, the Cana­di­an alu­minum indus­try is ful­ly inte­grat­ed with that of the U.S., and the Pen­ta­gon con­sid­ers Cana­di­an alu­minum pro­duc­tion a strate­gic mil­i­tary sup­ply.

So when Trump claims that “we lose a lot with Cana­da. Peo­ple don’t know it. They have you believe that it’s won­der­ful, and it is — for them. Not won­der­ful for us — it’s won­der­ful for them.”, these are either the dement­ed rav­ings of a lunatic, the will­ful lying of a pro­fes­sion­al con-artist, or the igno­rant bur­blings of an igno­ra­mus. Few peo­ple believe that these tar­iffs will actu­al­ly be imposed…. oth­er­wise the stock mar­ket would not just have dipped on their announce­ment, it would have col­lapsed. Trump’s White House orig­i­nal­ly announced that the tar­iffs would be enact­ed with­out excep­tions, then short­ly after that they might have “some excep­tions, but not on a nation­al basis” then some­what lat­er that “there might be exempt­ed coun­tries”, and final­ly that the tar­iffs on Cana­da might “poten­tial­ly exempt­ed for secu­ri­ty rea­sons.” Now the White House is issu­ing state­ments that Trump is “flex­i­ble”. But he had, as usu­al, an elab­o­rate and infan­tile pub­lic cer­e­mo­ny to sign a mean­ing­less doc­u­ment.

Iceland’s largest indus­try today is alu­minum smelt­ing. Because it has extreme­ly cheap elec­tric­i­ty from both hydro­elec­tric and geot­her­mal sources, and because it sits in the Atlantic mid­way between Europe and Cana­da, it is prac­ti­cal to ship baux­ite there in bulk and refine it. A Cana­di­an alu­minum com­pa­ny was the first to see this oppor­tu­ni­ty, way back in 1969, open­ing a plant at Haf­nar­fjörður, which I hope to vis­it. In 1998, and then 2008, two Amer­i­can com­pa­nies built plants, and the lat­est new project is a Cana­di­an-Swedish con­sor­tium. Ice­land exports more than a bil­lion dol­lars of un-alloyed alu­minum annu­al­ly to the U.S.. While Cana­da will prob­a­bly end up exempt­ed from Trump’s loony tar­iff, there is no sign that Ice­land will, which will be a dis­as­ter for that lit­tle coun­try. Zom­bies threat­en Ice­land once again. Snor­ri Þor­gríms­son, where are you?

It’s inter­est­ing to inform this farce with a lit­tle Cana­di­an-Amer­i­can trade his­to­ry. When Cana­da first came into exis­tence in 1867, its trade was pri­mar­i­ly with the Unit­ed States, but its finan­cial insti­tu­tions were mod­eled on those of Great Britain and some of its high-end indus­tries were British owned and man­aged. It’s most advanced enter­prise was Cunard Lines, a Nova Sco­tia-based com­pa­ny which dom­i­nat­ed trans-Atlantic pas­sen­ger ship­ping for a cen­tu­ry, with finan­cial back­ing in both the U.S. and Britain. By 1899, British invest­ment in Cana­da had grown some­what, though trade in com­modi­ties and man­u­fac­tured goods remained most­ly with the U.S.. Two men and two par­ties dom­i­nat­ed the polit­i­cal life of Cana­da before World War I: John A. Macdonald’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty and Wil­frid Laurier’s Lib­er­al Par­ty. The Con­ser­v­a­tives were extreme­ly hos­tile to what we would now call “free trade”. The Unit­ed States, at this time, was a high-tar­iff nation, one of the most extreme pro­tec­tion­ist coun­tries in the world, and Mac­don­ald want­ed high tar­iffs to match the Amer­i­can ones and pro­tec­tion for fledg­ling Cana­di­an indus­tries. The Lib­er­al Par­ty, on the oth­er hand, was com­mit­ted to a pol­i­cy of “reci­procity”, that is nego­ti­at­ing the low­er­ing and removal of all tar­iff bar­ri­ers between the U.S. and Cana­da. While Mac­don­ald was a hard-core can­ny politi­cian, much giv­en to wheel­ing and deal­ing, Lau­ri­er was much more of an intel­lec­tu­al, giv­en to opti­mistic visions of lib­er­ty and advanc­ing civ­i­liza­tion: “Cana­da is free and free­dom is its nation­al­i­ty… Noth­ing will pre­vent me from con­tin­u­ing my task of pre­serv­ing at all cost our civ­il lib­er­ty.” Free trade seemed to him to be a cor­ner­stone of this lib­er­ty. His admin­is­tra­tion nego­ti­at­ed much low­er tar­iffs with the U.S…Good tim­ing, because the Great Lakes region was about to spawn a new indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. The auto­mo­bile was essen­tial­ly a fusion of small motor tech­nol­o­gy and car­riage mak­ing. Car­riage-mak­ing had long been a large-scale indus­try in the Toron­to area, and small marine engines a spe­cial­ty in Detroit. Both areas began man­u­fac­tur­ing auto­mo­biles in 1901. By 1908, the Ford Motor Com­pa­ny in the U.S. adopt­ed and refined the assem­bly-line mass pro­duc­tion meth­ods that the McLaugh­lin Com­pa­ny in Cana­da [soon to become Gen­er­al Motors] had devel­oped for car­riage mak­ing. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, McLaugh­lin began man­u­fac­tur­ing auto­mo­biles. From the very begin­ning, indus­try around the Great Lakes region had a strong trend of inte­gra­tion, since these inland seas sup­port­ed mas­sive fish­eries and marine trade, which the auto­mo­bile and steel indus­tries ampli­fied and elab­o­rat­ed.

Despite this grow­ing eco­nom­ic involve­ment with the U.S., Lau­ri­er was an enthu­si­as­tic sup­port­er of the British Empire. Though he fought stren­u­ous­ly to pre­serve Canada’s polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence from Britain, he sin­cere­ly believe that the Empire could be trans­formed into a grand fed­er­a­tion of equal and inde­pen­dent nations, with French and Eng­lish Cana­di­ans, Ben­galis, Jamaicans, Aus­tralians, Africans, Irish navies and Lan­cashire work­men all on the same foot­ing. You can imag­ine how this went over in the halls of West­min­ster and Buck­ing­ham Palace, where the con­cep­tion of the Empire was con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent. Lau­ri­er died in 1919, sus­pect­ing that the Empire would nev­er be more than an exploita­tive rack­et, and demor­al­ized by the Great War he had dread­ed for a decade and tried every diplo­mat­ic strat­e­gy to pre­vent. The Great War soured many Cana­di­ans on Britain, and in the boom­ing 1920s, the U.S. became the focus of Canada’s trade and cul­tur­al ambi­tions. After WWI, Nia­gara Falls, at the bor­der of these two coun­tries, became the epi­cen­ter of a tech­no­log­i­cal and social rev­o­lu­tion that would rapid­ly trans­form the world. The Amer­i­can inven­tor and indus­tri­al­ist George West­ing­house had cham­pi­oned alter­nat­ing cur­rent for deliv­er­ing elec­tri­cal pow­er, and made good use of Niko­la Tesla’s AC induc­tion motor/generators and the polyphase alter­nat­ing cur­rent trans­mis­sion sys­tem to start pow­er gen­er­a­tion on the Amer­i­can side of Nia­gara. But elec­tric gen­er­a­tion still remained local­ized and aimed more at indus­tri­al than domes­tic clients. On the Cana­di­an side appeared Adam Beck, an indus­tri­al­ist, Con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cian and civ­il engi­neer. Start­ing in 1906, Beck was a vocal pro­po­nent of pub­licly owned elec­tric­i­ty grids, oppos­ing the pri­vate­ly owned com­pa­nies as poten­tial­ly exploita­tive and cor­rupt monop­o­lies. He also want­ed to see Nia­gara Falls har­nessed on a large scale, and pow­er grids extend­ed over wide areas, includ­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cept of rur­al elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. Rur­al elec­tri­fi­ca­tion was soon to trans­form agri­cul­ture across the world. After WWI, both nations built mas­sive pow­er gen­er­at­ing facil­i­ties on either side of Nia­gara, and it was in these projects that all the detailed tech­nol­o­gy of long-dis­tance pow­er trans­mis­sion was devel­oped.

By the end of the 1920’s, Cana­di­ans had come to think of them­selves as more or less twin broth­ers and sis­ters of Amer­i­cans with no more than a sym­bol­ic con­nec­tion to Britain. The coun­try was grow­ing rapid­ly, mak­ing a for­tune export­ing wheat from its expand­ing west­ern provinces, and indus­tri­al­iz­ing in the east­ern cities. What’s more, a flood of immi­grants had giv­en it a demo­graph­ic pat­tern sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can Mid­west. The Cana­di­an accent in Eng­lish was only a minor vari­ant of the Amer­i­can Mid­west­ern accent. Pop­u­lar cul­ture and the pat­terns of dai­ly life were large­ly shared. Cana­di­ans felt per­fect­ly at home walk­ing the streets of Chica­go or Min­neapo­lis. How­ev­er, the oth­er Amer­i­ca, the South, large­ly rur­al, racial­ly seg­re­gat­ed, and far from the indus­tri­al world of the Cana­di­an-Amer­i­can bor­der regions, remained utter­ly alien and incom­pre­hen­si­ble to them. Nor did they at all under­stand the great wound of slav­ery and the Civ­il War that per­pet­u­al­ly haunt­ed Amer­i­can life and pol­i­tics.

The Great Depres­sion struck both nations. The droughts that crip­pled the Amer­i­can West were even more dev­as­tat­ing in the Cana­di­an West. How­ev­er, there were some con­trasts. Canada’s banks were more strict­ly reg­u­lat­ed, and there were zero bank fail­ures in Cana­da while there were over 9,000 in the U.S.. Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion rebound­ed quick­ly, but its unem­ploy­ment remained high through­out the 1930’s; Canada’s employ­ment rebound­ed quick­ly, but its pro­duc­tiv­i­ty was slow­er to rise. But the sin­gle most impor­tant event was not the stock mar­ket crash of 1929, it was the Repub­li­can Party’s Smoot-Haw­ley Tar­iff Act of 1930. This was a mas­sive enact­ment of pro­tec­tive tar­iffs in the Unit­ed States. Just as with today’s Trump Tar­iff scheme, the major­i­ty of econ­o­mists con­sid­ered it fool­ish, and lead­ing indus­tri­al­ists begged Pres­i­dent Hoover not to enact it. Eco­nom­ic his­to­ri­ans are divid­ed as to whether it sig­nif­i­cant­ly length­ened or wors­ened the Great Depres­sion, but there is no dis­pute about its effect on Cana­da. As with today’s Trump Tar­iff, the prin­ci­pal vic­tim was America’s largest trad­ing part­ner to the north. Canada’s imme­di­ate response was, of course, retal­ia­to­ry tar­iffs, but its long-term response was to shift both its trad­ing and polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. With the Statute of West­min­ster (1931) Cana­da sev­ered its last direct leg­isla­tive ties with Great Britain, mak­ing its inde­pen­dence com­plete, but at the same time it entered com­pre­hen­sive trade agree­ments with Great Britain and Aus­tralia in which each guar­an­teed to co-ordi­nate their trade poli­cies and abol­ish bar­ri­ers. This was essen­tial­ly a new configuration…with Britain a large indus­tri­al mar­ket for Cana­di­an and Aus­tralian resources. At the same time, Canada’s new indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion could share in Britain’s mar­ket with Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia was not yet indus­tri­al­ized, but it ben­e­fit­ed from pref­er­en­tial deals for its agri­cul­tur­al goods, which, on the whole were not in con­flict with Canada’s dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. Cana­da invest­ed heav­i­ly in devel­op­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, part­ly to pre­serve uni­ty across an immense and still sparse­ly-set­tled ter­ri­to­ry. Iron­i­cal­ly, Laurier’s dream was at last being ful­filled, at least in a lim­it­ed way. Cana­da was now fac­ing away from the U.S. in pre­cise­ly the ways it had pre­vi­ous­ly faced toward it.

The begin­ning of World War II mul­ti­plied this effect, at first. The respons­es of the two coun­tries were pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent. Cana­da imme­di­ate­ly entered the war and geared up for it. It rapid­ly accel­er­at­ed its trans­for­ma­tion into a indus­tri­al pow­er, and chan­neled vir­tu­al­ly all of this devel­op­ment into the war effort. Soon, fac­to­ries in Toron­to were turn­ing out Lan­cast­er bombers at fre­net­ic speed, and Cana­di­an women pilots were fer­ry­ing them to Eng­land through swarms of spit­fires.

In the U.S., it was a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. The F.D.R. admin­is­tra­tion was sym­pa­thet­ic to Britain’s plight, and opposed to Hitler, but it had to deal with a sub­stan­tial pop­u­lar move­ment called Amer­i­ca First. This should be of spe­cial note to today’s read­ers, because Trump’s “Amer­i­ca First” slo­gan was con­scious­ly devised as a his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence to this move­ment of the 1930s. Trump him­self may be clue­less about his­to­ry, but his ide­o­log­i­cal gun­slingers, Steve Ban­non and Stephen Miller, cer­tain­ly knew what the phrase meant. The Amer­i­ca Firsters, as they came to be known, flood­ed the media of the time with pro­pa­gan­da and staged hys­ter­i­cal ral­lies. The mes­sage was clear: Hitler is our friend. Ger­many and Amer­i­ca should co-oper­ate. Jews and god­less “lib­er­als” are schem­ing to drag Amer­i­ca into war. Uppi­ty negroes, Mex­i­cans and immi­grants with gar­lic breath and fun­ny accents are the real ene­mies, not the noble Nazis. If you have ever seen a Trump ral­ly, you get the idea. The Amer­i­ca First move­ment was sur­rep­ti­tious­ly financed by both the Nazi Par­ty in Ger­many, and its faith­ful ally, the Com­mu­nist Par­ty. Both Hitler and Stal­in dis­patched agents to infil­trate the local Amer­i­ca Firsters and direct their ener­gies to their inter­ests. As a con­se­quence, though Roo­sevelt was able to devise some “lend-lease” poli­cies to help Great Britain, the U.S. stayed out of the war until the Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor deflat­ed the Amer­i­ca Firsters. The con­clu­sion of that war, with the U.S. par­tic­i­pat­ing, was to change the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic land­scape of the whole world.

When the war end­ed, the Unit­ed States and Cana­da were the only two sub­stan­tial indus­tri­al pow­ers left stand­ing. The for­mer indus­tri­al pow­ers of Europe and Japan were dev­as­tat­ed ruins. Britain, France, and the Nether­lands had not yet lost their over­seas colo­nial empires, but every­one expect­ed them to soon. Britain lived with food short­ages and ration stamps for a decade after the war. For the next gen­er­a­tion, the glob­al lead­er­ship of the Unit­ed States was self-evi­dent, and the return of Cana­da to its fold was unques­tioned. Cana­di­ans became, once again, par­al­lel Amer­i­cans. Aus­tralians felt the same pull. There emerged in the world a clear “gold stan­dard” of life. This cen­tered on the Unit­ed States, which despite the embar­rass­ing per­sis­tence of racial injus­tice, and pover­ty and seg­re­ga­tion in it’s south­east­ern quar­ter, offered the world a vision of a decent life for the ordi­nary work­er and fam­i­ly. This was char­ac­ter­ized not only by a wide dis­tri­b­u­tion of con­sumer goods, but a gen­er­al assump­tion of social equal­i­ty, strong unions, busy fac­to­ries offer­ing high-pay­ing jobs, qual­i­ty pub­lic edu­ca­tion, excel­lent pub­lic infra­struc­ture and gov­ern­ment ser­vices, afford­able hous­ing includ­ing wide­spread own­er­ship of sin­gle-fam­i­ly homes, a bank­ing sys­tem now reg­u­lat­ed against fraud and spec­u­la­tion by the Glass-Stea­gall Act, and a cre­ative and high­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic pop­u­lar cul­ture mim­ic­ked around the world. Every dance craze dreamed up by Cal­i­for­nia teenagers was soon tak­en up in Turin and Tokyo. Cana­da, Aus­tralia and New Zealand shared in this new pros­per­ous and egal­i­tar­i­an lifestyle, char­ac­ter­ized by a steadi­ly nar­row­ing gap between the rich­est and the poor­est. Sub­ur­ban life in Mil­wau­kee, Mel­bourne or Mon­tre­al was essen­tial­ly the same. Despite threat­en­ing the world with nuclear holo­caust and cre­at­ing a glob­al cold war, the Sovi­et Union offered noth­ing to the world that peo­ple want­ed. Every­one knew that despite its weapons and space pro­gram, it was a back­ward dump that no sane per­son would choose to live in.

The Viet­nam War tar­nished this pic­ture, but did not fun­da­men­tal­ly alter it. Cana­di­ans over­whelm­ing­ly opposed the Viet­nam adven­ture, and refused to par­tic­i­pate, anger­ing the Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tions that waged that war. (Aus­tralia took the oppo­site posi­tion). But Cana­di­ans’ atti­tudes to Amer­i­cans remained “fam­i­ly” —- broth­ers might squab­ble, but out­side the fam­i­ly it was anoth­er mat­ter. Cana­di­ans were dis­mayed by Amer­i­can racial injus­tice, but admired the courage and patri­ot­ic vital­i­ty of its civ­il rights move­ment. They deplored the Viet­nam War, but admired the youth­ful Amer­i­can ide­al­ism that resist­ed it. The assump­tion that the U.S. and Cana­da were “nat­ur­al allies” and eco­nom­ic part­ners remained self-evi­dent. So too was the assump­tion that social injus­tices would one by one be defeat­ed and rel­e­gat­ed to the trash-heap of the past, that under­neath all the weak­ness­es and con­flicts there was a fun­da­men­tal­ly pro­gres­sive core.

The real change began with the Rea­gan Rev­o­lu­tion of the 1980s. From this point on, the Unit­ed States sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly aban­doned all the prin­ci­ples and atti­tudes that had made it great. Sud­den­ly, it was no longer a coun­try where a fac­to­ry work­er could feel the social equal of any stock bro­ker or banker, where the inven­tor of every new gad­get and builder of every big for­tune went to Cen­ter­ville High and then State Uni­ver­si­ty, where cures for dis­eases came from the labs in prairie cow col­leges, and where the impov­er­ished immi­grant end­ed up with “my son the doc­tor” and “my daugh­ter the lawyer” with­in a few decades of set­ting foot on a land of oppor­tu­ni­ty. Instead, it was now a land where “the right school” and the “the right con­tacts” mat­tered most. It was now a land where “celebri­ties” were treat­ed like Euro­pean roy­al­ty and “impor­tant” peo­ple expect­ed to be fast-tracked past the line-ups in restau­rants and clubs. Ruth­less­ly pil­ing up mon­ey by cheat­ing peo­ple was pro­claimed a moral virtue. At first, it began with sym­bol­ic things… a dress code here, a sniffy “class” priv­i­lege there, an arro­gant smirk in a smug priv­i­leged face every­where. The hard-won advances of African Amer­i­cans stag­nat­ed, then began to roll back. The sym­bol­ic assaults were rapid­ly suc­ceed­ed by real, gut-wrench­ing trans­for­ma­tions, and over the course of the last forty years, Amer­i­ca has become Anti-Amer­i­ca, a nation dis­play­ing and espous­ing every­thing it once stood against, and every­thing the Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion was fought against. It is now well on the way to becom­ing a third-world, back­ward soci­ety, ruled by a third-rate hered­i­tary nobil­i­ty ― and if Trump stays in pow­er, a tenth-rate tin-pot pup­pet dic­ta­tor tak­ing orders from Moscow.

The rela­tion­ship between Cana­di­an and Amer­i­can soci­eties has altered fun­da­men­tal­ly in this process. There is no ques­tion now, that Cana­da is more demo­c­ra­t­ic ― not because its polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions have great­ly improved (they have only mar­gin­al­ly done so), but because Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy has erod­ed so dras­ti­cal­ly. Income inequal­i­ty has been increas­ing in Cana­da as well, though not near­ly at the same rate. With its inti­mate cul­tur­al rela­tion­ship to the U.S., it’s no sur­prise that many of the despi­ca­ble social trends that plague the U.S. find echoes in Cana­da. But the dif­fer­ences between the two coun­tries have sharp­ened dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the last decade. There is no Trump in Cana­da, and nobody like him can pos­si­bly get elect­ed. The only polit­i­cal Par­ty even slight­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to that kind of stuff, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty, turned away from it pret­ty firm­ly. There is no Cana­di­an Marie Le Pen, no Vik­tor Orbán, no Alter­na­tive für Deutsch­land, no Five Star Move­ment, no Gold­en Dawn. There are no bands of goons roam­ing the streets beat­ing up immi­grants. Refugees have been wel­comed in great num­bers, encoun­ter­ing hos­til­i­ty only from a hand­ful of cranks. Old social injus­tices are still seen as mat­ters to expose and resolve, rather than to deny and entrench. In short, it is anoth­er world from what lies south of the bor­der.

The sta­tis­tics tell a pro­found sto­ry. A Cana­di­an today has con­sid­er­ably greater social mobil­i­ty than an Amer­i­can. If a Cana­di­an is born into the low­est quar­ter of the income scale, they have twice as much chance of mov­ing into the upper mid­dle quar­ter and three times as much chance of mov­ing into the high­est quar­ter. Immi­grants to Cana­da suc­ceed in achiev­ing a secure stan­dard of liv­ing at high­er rates than immi­grants to the U.S. Refugees show near­ly the same rates, though start­ing with obvi­ous hand­i­caps. There are no racial or eth­nic ghet­tos. Inher­it­ed wealth is half as like­ly to be the major fac­tor in suc­cess for a Cana­di­an. Small busi­ness­es have sta­tis­ti­cal­ly bet­ter chances of suc­cess, and are start­ed at a high­er rate. Cana­di­ans have three times as much chance of becom­ing mod­er­ate­ly wealthy as Amer­i­cans and there are twice as many very wealthy [over $30 mil­lion in assets] Cana­di­ans per capi­ta as Amer­i­cans. The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of suc­cess­ful peo­ple in Cana­da went to ordi­nary pub­lic schools and local main­stream uni­ver­si­ties. There is no stu­dent loan cri­sis in Cana­da, and col­lege tuitions are not a sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­er to advance­ment for any lev­el of the soci­ety. Cana­di­ans have sta­tis­ti­cal­ly bet­ter health than Amer­i­cans and live a few years longer.

This is a new sit­u­a­tion for Cana­da. None of those sta­tis­tics would have been true a gen­er­a­tion ago. What is more, only some of them can plau­si­bly be attrib­uted to social or polit­i­cal progress in Cana­da. They result much more from the com­par­a­tive decay of Amer­i­can insti­tu­tions and soci­ety. One can­not pur­sue the sick, anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic and anti-Amer­i­can ide­ol­o­gy con­coct­ed by Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tives for four decades and expect to remain the land of the free and the home of the brave. Mind­less wor­shipers of a self-styled super-duper­man like Trump can nev­er be brave, and cer­tain­ly have no inter­est in free­dom. The core prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can Con­ser­vatism, which boils down to “if a bil­lion­aire enters the room, get down on your hands and knees and pre­pare to suck his dick”, is fun­da­men­tal­ly noth­ing but snivel­ing cow­ardice. And once you are in that posi­tion, crouched on all fours, it does not mat­ter much if the bil­lion­aire wears a cow­boy hat, tweets his orders from a Park Avenue pent­house, or mut­ters them in Russ­ian from his Res­i­dence Riv­iera dacha in Sochi.

Will Amer­i­cans turn a cor­ner and recov­er their hon­our? As a Cana­di­an, and a friend of many Amer­i­cans whom I admire, I am con­vinced that they will. But it will take a long time. A major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans are true in their hearts to America’s most noble ideas, but they have, like bat­tered wives, become accus­tomed to accept­ing their dis­hon­our as ineluctable fate. A minor­i­ty of big­ot­ed fanat­ics wave AR-15s at them, scream at them from the Fox Net­work and church pul­pits, and sneer at them from the halls of Con­gress; a dement­ed child tweets at them from the White House or a golf course; and they cow­er in their homes, afraid to stand up, afraid to assert their her­itage as Amer­i­cans, afraid to vote out a gang of trai­tors despoil­ing their coun­try. Demon­stra­tions are fine, but it is polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, purg­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of sell­outs, get­ting out the vote and putting real patri­ots in office that will accom­plish some­thing. The Amer­i­can his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der has right­ly said that “Amer­i­ca has been col­o­nized. Amer­i­cans are in the process of accept­ing their sta­tus as a colony.” He has com­pared America’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion to France in the time of Vichy, when many French­men pre­tend­ed that every­thing was nor­mal, that noth­ing had hap­pened, that Mar­shall Pétain’s rule was just anoth­er French admin­is­tra­tion. “It is only very slow­ly” Sny­der has said “that one comes to under­stand what being col­o­nized means.” And the longer it takes, the deep­er the wound and the shame will be, and the longer it will take to recov­er.

Which brings us back to alu­minum and steel. It seems unlike­ly that Trump’s insane tar­iffs will actu­al­ly be foist­ed on Cana­da. The bulk of Trump’s back­ers and the Repub­li­can Par­ty elite stand to loose mon­ey if that hap­pens, though some stand to gain. They can usu­al­ly finesse, dis­tract, or talk Trump out of any­thing they real­ly dis­ap­prove of, because Trump has no knowl­edge of any poli­cies. You get some­thing from Trump by flat­ter­ing him, giv­ing him a parade, and let­ting him sign some­thing. But Trump is not reli­ably con­trol­lable. He uses ran­dom destruc­tion as a habit­u­al tac­tic, and can sum­mon up an army of zom­bies to denounce any­one he takes a dis­like to, ruin­ing their chance of re-elec­tion and future graft.

It is unwise and dan­ger­ous for Cana­da to assume the dan­ger is passed. The Unit­ed States is going to be in a chaot­ic state for many years, no mat­ter what hap­pens next. Dur­ing this peri­od, Cana­da will be con­stant­ly vul­ner­a­ble to nasty sur­pris­es and eco­nom­ic chaos. When this hap­pened before, back in 1930, Cana­di­an politi­cians and busi­ness were clever enough to shift their per­spec­tive and seek out new alliances, and the coun­try sur­vived.

This is one of the rea­sons I am about to vis­it Ice­land, vis­it­ed Aus­tralia last spring, and hope to make vis­its to Scan­di­navia and New Zealand rea­son­ably soon. I seek to under­stand these soci­eties as deeply as I can. This is because a glance at a sin­gle chart tells me which coun­tries should be the focus of Canada’s atten­tion, and which should be con­sid­ered nat­ur­al allies. Our cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion, con­ven­tion­al­ly-mind­ed, looks to where the mon­ey shines, thinks that carv­ing out deals with the big play­ers is the desir­able strat­e­gy. Canada’s pres­tige in the world has def­i­nite­ly been ris­ing, as the U.S. sinks, but cur­ry­ing favour with Japan, India, or the Euro­pean Union is not going cre­ate any con­fig­u­ra­tion of pow­er that Cana­da can rely on, and any­one who thinks they can play pok­er with Xi Jin­ping and win is just a plain fool. It’s not trade deals as such that Cana­da needs. Canada’s prod­ucts will go where the mar­ket for them is, and our polit­i­cal lead­ers will nev­er have much influ­ence on where that will be. What mat­ters is with whom one has sol­i­dar­i­ty, with whom one reli­ably keeps a two-way flow of infor­ma­tion, and keeps cul­tur­al­ly con­nect­ed to. This was the basis on which Cana­di­ans act­ed in the eco­nom­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing 1930s, and then again in the pros­per­ous 1950’s and 60’s.

The Econ­o­mist Intel­li­gence Unit calls upon an impres­sive pool of jour­nal­is­tic, aca­d­e­m­ic and polit­i­cal sources to com­pile it’s annu­al glob­al Democ­ra­cy Index. It ranks and clas­si­fies coun­tries as Full Democ­ra­cies, Flawed Democ­ra­cies, Hybrid Regimes, and Author­i­tar­i­an Regimes, using 60 indi­ca­tors, any of which might be debat­able for some rea­son, but which alto­geth­er are accept­ed as rea­son­able by most peo­ple with a seri­ous inter­est in the progress or regress of democ­ra­cy. The Econ­o­mist table does not try to mea­sure any­thing as neb­u­lous as “free­dom” and does not at all depend on the obscene notion ped­dled by ide­ol­o­gists that “eco­nom­ic free­dom” can be con­cep­tu­al­ly sep­a­rat­ed from “polit­i­cal free­dom”. It con­cerns itself strict­ly with the bricks and mor­tar of polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that are rel­e­vant to democ­ra­cy. Coun­tries drift up and down in this tal­ly, and it is alarm­ing­ly sig­nif­i­cant that, for the first time, the Unit­ed States has slipped down into the Flawed Democ­ra­cies cat­e­go­ry. This does not appear to be the prod­uct of any sim­ple-mind­ed cul­tur­al anti-Amer­i­can­ism, which the EIU has nev­er, to my knowl­edge, been been guilty of. The decay of Amer­i­can demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions is appar­ent to every­one who is obser­vant, includ­ing most thought­ful and patri­ot­ic Amer­i­cans.

There are coun­tries that have con­sis­tent­ly remained in the top tier of the Full Democ­ra­cies cat­e­go­ry: Cana­da, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Ire­land, Ice­land, Nor­way, Den­mark, Swe­den, and Fin­land. Nor­way rou­tine­ly holds first place, with a rep­u­ta­tion for painful­ly hon­est gov­er­nance. All these coun­tries have fair­ly long his­to­ries of sta­ble demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. All of them are wealthy coun­tries with pro­duc­tive, inno­v­a­tive economies and strong social safe­ty nets. All of them have sophis­ti­cat­ed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­tures, access to the sea, and mar­itime tra­di­tions. Among them, only Den­mark and Aus­tralia can be impli­cat­ed in over­seas colo­nial­ism. Denmark’s hands-off rela­tion­ships with its depen­den­cies, Green­land and the Faeroes, have not trig­gered crit­i­cism or com­plaint. Aus­tralia has some embar­rass­ments con­cern­ing Papua-Niug­i­ni, but is now well-behaved. All but two have some his­toric expe­ri­ence of being colonies or depen­dents. None have ever pre­tend­ed to be world pow­ers or thrown their weight around. All have expe­ri­ence in deal­ing with minori­ties. Three have been long-term immi­gra­tion-based soci­eties. All have accept­ed refugees. All have high stan­dards of edu­ca­tion. Cana­da has rou­tine­ly co-oper­at­ed with all these coun­tries in var­i­ous ways. Togeth­er their pop­u­la­tion amounts to about a hun­dred mil­lion peo­ple, which is con­sid­er­ably more than either Ger­many or France.

All these coun­tries have resist­ed the trend of increas­ing income dis­par­i­ty (though Cana­da is per­haps the weak­est exam­ple). They demon­strate the false­hood of the ide­o­log­i­cal snake-oil which claims that increas­ing income dis­par­i­ty is nec­es­sary for pros­per­i­ty. They are all liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries that show that Neo-Con­ser­v­a­tive [or “Neo-Lib­er­al”, as it is absurd­ly called in Europe] eco­nom­ic the­o­ry is a crack­pot fraud, in exact­ly the same way that Marx­ist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry is a crack­pot fraud. The two fraud­u­lent “sys­tems” in fact share many false assump­tions and oper­ate in much the same way, jus­ti­fy­ing the ascent of an aris­toc­ra­cy and the exploita­tion and loot­ing of the peo­ple under a pre­tense of “equal­i­ty”. Both are pro­found­ly col­lec­tivist.

But most impor­tant, these coun­tries have been rel­a­tive­ly free of the plague of author­i­tar­i­an, racist, leader-wor­ship­ing, immi­grant-hat­ing, theo­crat­ic, vio­lent, lgbt-per­se­cut­ing and mys­ti­cal nation­al­ist polit­i­cal move­ments that are cur­rent­ly cir­cling like vul­tures to destroy exist­ing democ­ra­cies and advance the agen­das of exist­ing tyran­nies.

These nations should form a mutu­al asso­ci­a­tion explic­it­ly com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing and pro­tect­ing the demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tices that have put them in that top tier, explic­it­ly reject­ing author­i­tar­i­an polit­i­cal move­ments and the eco­nom­ic and social the­o­ries asso­ci­at­ed with them, self-mon­i­tor­ing and mutu­al­ly mon­i­tor­ing each oth­er for signs of cor­rup­tion, pro­tect­ing sys­tems of uni­ver­sal pub­lic edu­ca­tion and pub­lic health, and pro­mot­ing the laws and reg­u­la­tions and prac­tices that pro­tect these high stan­dards. There should be no need for such nations to lec­ture oth­ers or engage in moral cru­sades out­side their bor­ders. The best teach­ing is by exam­ple, and the best argu­ment the fait accom­pli of peace and pros­per­i­ty.

If the top tier of Full Democ­ra­cies acquires a col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty, it may be the clar­i­on that turns the tide. Every­thing that clar­i­fies the dis­tinc­tion between effec­tive demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance and cor­rupt­ed democ­ra­cies-in-name-only will be cru­cial to the sur­vival of the demo­c­ra­t­ic idea. The Unit­ed States is in no posi­tion to do this, and will be “offline” for some time to come. Democ­ra­cy has been on the run around the world, and unless it turns around and fights, the whole world is in dan­ger of sink­ing into bar­barism. We will have a plan­et of Xis and Putins and Trumps clink­ing cham­pagne glass­es while they dance on the rot­ting corpse of civ­i­liza­tion.

I am tempt­ed to send a copy of Eyr­byg­g­ja Saga to U.S. Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Swan Mueller. He may just be America’s Snor­ri Þor­gríms­son.

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