Public Values

What government can do in the first 30 days after the election

We have been vividly reminded that we need governments to act in the common good.

Larry Brownby Larry Brown, National Secretary-Treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees

These are difficult and uncertain times. Economies around the world are being buffeted by forces that have not yet fully played themselves out; the storm winds are still blowing strong.

One thing we can say with certainty is that the strange idea that governments should have no real role in the economy, that 'free markets' are the best solution for everything, is now effectively yesterday's news, an old fashioned and discredited notion.

We have been vividly reminded that we need governments to act in the common good, to be constructively involved in the economic life of the country. What does that mean? What should governments actually do?

In the medium term, we need to put in place everything from a modern, green, job rich economy to a national public child care system.

But we also need urgent action right now. So here's our own 30-day plan, starting on October 15th.

(1) Recall parliament to fix our employment insurance (EI) system so it will actually provide coverage for unemployed workers. Only a minority now qualify. Many jobs have been lost already, and there will be more jobs lost. Good coverage for unemployed workers makes sense morally and economically. If workers who lose their jobs don't receive any support, they will quit spending, making everything that much worse.

(2) Immediately implement an expansive program to build and repair our crumbling public buildings and public property. Our bridges are worn out; some have already collapsed. Our school buildings are run down. Our hospitals need repair. Our universities have roofs that leak. The work needs to be done; we need jobs for our workers; and we'll have to do this eventually anyway. All the money involved would be spent in our communities, which is how economies get rebuilt. Part of that spending on public buildings would involve environmental retrofits so energy costs and greenhouse gases will both decrease — a win/win/win proposition.

(3) Make it clear from Day One that not a single nickel will be spent bailing out a single company unless we as taxpayers get an ownership stake in the company that corresponds with our investment share — no more public money to prop up private profit or reward private greed.

(4) Put an immediate end to any expansion of so-called free trade deals. The 'free market, free trade' mantra got us into this mess. Trade deals always limit the ability of our government to govern on behalf of its citizens; they favour corporate interests above all else. We are being hit so hard by the US meltdown because of NAFTA, which ties our economies together and makes it impossible for our government to insulate us. We should also put an immediate end to the 'free trade' deal with the murderous regime in Colombia — and enter no new 'free trade' deal with the EU. We can get back to renegotiating NAFTA later. Let's move on to fair trade and leave this 'free trade' era behind.

(5) Excessive CEO compensation must be ended. It isn't just legalized theft and legitimized corruption, although it is both of those. Every dollar that goes to a CEO is a dollar that isn't going into a worker's pay cheque, that isn't going into investment in new plants or better equipment, that isn't going to shareholders. How to fix it? Tax it all back. Tax the companies that grant absurd stock options. Tax back any corporate salary above an agreed upon standard that rewards CEO's for bad decisions.

(6) Governments need to bulk up, starting now. They will be called upon to deliver public services on an urgent basis. Government employment is good for the economy; we need good jobs. Money spent this way stays in our communities and for every government job there will be a spin-off of 2.5 other jobs created. But there's more. Our public services are facing a critical loss of employees as huge numbers reach retirement age. We could lose 50 percent or more of our public sector workforce over the next decade. We're going to need lots of new public employees. Let's relieve the pressure by beginning now to do the hiring that we'll very shortly have to do anyway.

(7) End the unrestricted right of companies to lay off employees simply to tidy up their books, or to increase profit margins, or protect the CEO's bonus. We give government grants to companies then watch as they close up shop; we allow companies to lay off workers without any restrictions even though those layoffs hurt the community, hurt our economy. Why? We have laws against pollution. Yet if companies lay off workers, that hurts the economic environment. Companies should be required to get permission to lay off employees — and it should not be easy to get.

(8) Accept that never going into deficit, under any circumstances, is nonsense, even dangerous. Some of the strongest growth in Canada's history occurred when we ran huge deficits after World War II. A deficit in a situation of crisis is not a mistake; in fact a 'no deficit' stance now would cause a lot of unnecessary pain.

If governments insist they won't run a deficit no matter what, they won't be able to provide the programs and the protections that Canadians need. If governments insist they won't run a deficit, the only solution in a major downturn will be to cut government spending — the exact opposite of what will be needed.

If the private sector economy seriously slows down, and the response from government is to seriously slow down its expenditures, the resulting economic collapse will be twice as serious. And people will be left without the programs and service they need to help them deal with the fallout of the recession on their jobs and their lives.

(9) Issue new government bonds; victory bonds, green bonds, infrastructure bonds. Let the public invest in their own future, let the public have access to safe, secure investments that will at the same time build our economy and our communities.

(10) Announce a five-year moratorium on foreign takeovers of Canadian industry. Too much of our mining industry, our manufacturing sector, especially our resources, is owned by interests outside of Canada with no stake in improving this country. Let's protect what we have left, then decide how to repatriate what we've already lost. That would be a good start. Then we could catch our breath and start planning for the medium term.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring that our common wealth is used for the common good.

Privatization vs. Public Values Frame
  Free markets are the best solution for everything / Government steers, stabilizes ship of state

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  What government can do in the first 30 days after the election, by Larry Brown, posted on October 10, 2008

Posted: October 15, 2008

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