Time for Ontario’s Neo-Liberal Innovators to Innovate

A new report on Ontario’s economic problems has been released just in time to invite comment and debate from the leadership candidates of both Ontario’s and Canada’s Liberal Party.
In one neat package of 75 pages, the government-funded Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress provides an excellent summary of almost everything that is wrong with neo-liberalism. Who could ask for a better measure of where proposed leaders stand?
(I use the term neo-liberal to refer to 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 Task Force report is called A Push for Growth: The time is now. Don’t lose time looking for it in the personal growth section of the bookstore, or the growing healthier section of the bookstore, or in the growing concern for environmental destruction aisle of the bookstore.
The growth pushers want the Ontario to buck up (yes, they complain that we work far too few hours and take far too many holidays compared to those Yanks)and get innovative with productivity so we can close the productivity gap that keeps us falling further behind our peer US states. They  hold up North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey and Illinois as beacons to imitate.
Turn me loose! Cancel my December 26 holiday and our family leave programs for new parents, so we can be more like those places! (To be fair, New York, Massachusetts and California kick our unproductive butt too, but to be even more fair, that’s like comparing apples and oranges, given that they lost no mining or logging jobs, and given the raft of geographic, historical and imperial advantages they enjoy.)
Odd, but I always find the people who most talk about the importance of being competitive are most likely to have academic tenure or a bank of dad to go home to, while most who flog innovation have ideas that are well beyond their best before date. The Task Force pushers want to see lower corporate taxes, more regressive sales taxes, less incentives for small and medium businesses, more breaks for big corporations , faster urbanization. As I recall, those ideas were genuinely innovative in the late 1980s, as neo-liberalism was taking shape.
But if they weren’t so stuck in that mindset, they might have looked elsewhere to find more positive places to experiment with productive and innovative ideas.
A quick romp though Google tells me Ontario loses 4.9 billion preventable and potentially productive dollars a year for diabetes, a largely preventable disease. Ontario doctors estimate the province loses a billion dollars a year from air pollution. Others estimate losses of $1.6 billion on obesity and somewhere between 10 and 13 billion dollars a year due to poverty. Someone could add up the productivity losses from the Great Polluted Lakes — less fish, less tourism, more expensive water treatment, and so on. In some countries, people with mandates like our Task Force even tally the productivity loss caused by massive youth unemployment, underemployment and the lifetime “scarring” that leaves. In the UK, this is estimated to cost $12 billion a year.
Why not get productive with problems that do more than create economic growth and actually make for better living and better relations with the environment, which is also a huge factor of production?
Being who I am, I also can’t help but notice that the pushers didn’t even mention food or agriculture. Leaving out the province’s number one job sector does suggest these guys are just charging the province for ideas they’ve taken off the ideological shelf.
It just happens, on December 3, U of T’s highly innovative New College and Toronto Youth Food Policy Council hosted five inspiring food innovators, almost all 20-somethings, and all trying to do jobs, as each explained, that made them feel good when they looked in the mirror every morning – a bad attitude toward competitiveness and productivity and prosperity, if I ever heard one.
One of these innovators, Matt Basile, is the chef who couldn’t afford a restaurant and is living in his mom’s basement while he works like crazy to set up a mobile and pop-up business, including a food truck, called Fidel Gastro. With a name like that, Basile must be a competitive laggard and productivity bad ass, the antithesis of what the growth pushers want to see. The former advertizing 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 have images of the Task Force competition pushers throwing up their hands and gagging at this – “I believe in collaboration and partnering rather than competition, so everyone succeeds.”
That spirit of innovation, and how it is being quashed by banks and governments,  is what we need a report on.

Question of Liberal leadership candidates: if neo-liberals are right that the public sector should not do what the private sector does better, why are tax dollars wasted on this rehash of what can be found in the privately-funded Fraser and CD Howe institutes?

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