Economy · Nova Scotia

Guest Post – Wild Fish, Monster Machines and the New Green Corporate State Economism Part 2: Small is Beautiful

Part One of this series can be found here.  Written by a close friend and colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

Wild Fish – Monster Machines – and the New Green Corporate State Economism Part 2 – Small is Beautiful

Probably the biggest economic catastrophe in modern Atlantic Canada is Muskrat Falls. Potentially an environmental disaster, it could quite possibly cost Newfoundland and Labrador $12 billion (up from $7 billion and rising) – which means electricity costs in NL will double.

Stan Marshall (former CEO of Fortis NL Power and NL Hydro) was chosen by the NL government last year to rescue the project and he says simply it was just too big. “Muskrat Falls was not the right choice for the power needs of this province,” he said.  And Andrew Younger, former NS energy minister, tells us Muskrat Falls was originally intended to be only the first step to a much larger Labrador hydro project.

Now this first-step-only Muskrat Falls at $12 billion means a cost of about $24,000 for each person in NL and higher per household. What justification can there be for these gigantic projects where the bill is delivered to taxpayers who live in provinces of declining power usage?

Muskrat Falls never would have gone forward in the first place without a federal guarantee for $5 billion (the feds made the loan despite concerns of a joint federal provincial environmental panel and the NL public utilities board. (In November another $2.9 billion federal guarantee came from the feds while some NL critics say the federal government should simply bail the entire project.)

There is also a back story written by Emera USA which controls Nova Scotia energy. The federal loan guarantee, reportedly pushed by Peter McKay, depended on cutting in Emera USA on the deal. Emera USA would place a cable (or cables) across the Gulf and pass the cost off to Nova Scotia taxpayers.  The cable would connect power from NL straight to the US (although critics, and even Marshall, says the US market is now soft and won’t be paying high prices.)

In return for Emera USA building the “Maritime Link” (another $1.5 billion federal guarantee) Nova Scotia taxpayers receive an equivalent amount of hydro electricity (although Younger warns NL could deliver “dirty” energy from its oil fired plants). Also after NL delivers the NS prepaid electricity, NL then owns the link to the USA.  Now Nova Scotians weren’t totally impressed by the deal. Nova Scotia is also a province of declining energy needs. Younger advises the link may only potentially deliver marginally cheaper power than the current system.

Nova Scotia’s consumer and small business advocates argued against the deal. But the NS Utility and Review Board committed NS taxpayers to the Emera USA plan – and one CBC story suggests we will start repaying the $1.52 billion in 2017?

Nova Scotia politicians and Emera USA are also complicit in another mammoth energy scheme – the scheme of placing up to 300 huge turbines (Younger) in the Bay of Fundy. Opposition from fishermen has apparently been squashed by a powerful coalition of federal/provincial corporate government; foreign corporations; universities, and the judiciary.

Richard Starr’s book Power Failure? is the history of Nova Scotia politicians since the 18th century pursuing the fantasy of selling energy to the “Boston states”. Starr points out that, in comparison with other Canadian provinces, Nova Scotia is relatively lacking in energy resources and, as some critics have pointed out, we would be better off looking after our own people.

But the myth persists: when fishers tried to explain their concerns about the turbines to the Nova Scotia environment minister Margaret Miller, she replied abruptly – “Resources evolve – there was once 3000 farms in Nova Scotia and now there are only 300.”  In other words, she was talking of Resource Replacement – specifically replacing Nova Scotia fishers (and fish) with foreign owned corporations and their European turbines producing electricity – arguably destined for export.

(One might suggest that a Nova Scotia government should be more concerned with food sovereignty and the dramatic drop in Nova Scotia food (less than 8% now?) produced in the province. Is there any environmental assessment of the African elephant grass being imported to burn in the Hantsport biomass plant – and to be grown on fertile agriculture land which could be producing healthy food to sustain the province?)

The addiction to grand corporate schemes – funded by the taxpayers – is supported by what the Japanese call the educational industrial complex.

In 2014 the NS government released the Ivany report (Ivany was the president of Acadia University – called the House of Tidal Power by fishermen – and also a $94,000 director of an Emera US subsidiary).  The report has two themes – one is an alarmist Nova Scotians live in a condition of extreme emergency and the other is the only solution is growth.

But citizens’ groups, immediately responding to the report, pointed out Ivany misses out on why people choose to live in Nova Scotia – quality of life.  It was also demonstrated that monetary gain and corporate profits are not the true measurements of a society.

Exactly. A 2015 State of the Rural Economy Report:

“Nova Scotia is home to a vibrant social sector and a dedicated labour pool of both volunteers and employees alike.”

“In 2013 the province contributed a higher annual average amount of volunteer hours in Canada.”

“The cooperative sector is especially active in rural Nova Scotia.”

Yet the Nova Scotia premier, interviewed in December on ATV, continues to recite the growth mantra and also confided he doesn’t listen to the people anyway:

“We need to grow this province in every way.”

“I don’t make a decision based on public opinion. I make ah what I believe is right”

“Listen, I will be campaigning on continuing to grow this province.”

I would suggest instead of focusing on the growth agenda of the educational industrial complex we should be refocusing on how inappropriate that model is for a place of limited natural resources and a small population.

Austrian born philosopher Leopold Kohr, writing in the 50s – The Breakdown of States – warned of “the crisis of bigness”. He argues that “small states, small nations and small economies are more peaceful, more prosperous and more creative than the great powers or superstates”. He suggested that when people have too much power, they abuse it. The key is the “human scale” or “a scale at which people could play a part in the system.”

In the early 2000s, I was working in Atlantic Canada community learning networks – supported by the unique federal Office of Learning Technologies. Community Learning Networks were a world wide concept and we became a participant in Global Community Networking conferences. At one point I was asked to fill out an extensive survey describing what was wrong with the world and how the work I was involved in could lead to positive change.

Edited version of my reply:

“We need collective action or collaboration of small independent diversities, utilizing practical strategies including participatory grassroots communications to encourage independence and pride of place (ie., strengthen the small, independent diversities.)

The world system – easily perceived as a scaled up computer operating system – is increasing disparity between rich and poor at the same time it is creating a homogeneous world culture. I think homogeneity may be considered a mechanism of control.

If the current operating system, as it is evolving, were to accept diversity – it would be participating in its own destruction. In my mind, the fostering of diversity is the development of independent thinking/image and the promotion of self empowerment/control over one’s life. This would not seem to be compatible with the current global culture/marketplace.

The alternative to the current dominant system is widespread decentralization of decision making; “local democracy”; fostering of cultural diversity, and legitimization of local ways of doing things. This presupposes a co-operative rather than an adversarial system.

Unfortunately, even among people who identify the wrongs of the current world order, therewerment/control over one’s life. This would not seem to be compatible with the curre are few in power who don’t subscribe to elitism – whether it be based on age, education, gender, geographic location, race or money.

In the late 90s Apple was developing a new type of computer operating system – component software – OpenDoc and Living Objects.

Opposed to component software were huge, monolithic applications eating up hardware space – unstable, leading to catastrophic crashes. These applications are often expensive and developed by large corporations.

Components, on the other hand were tiny pieces of software that work together to duplicate the function of a large application. They are self contained, robust and they are designed to work together. One component does not have to understand what the other component does.

Living Objects – the name for the components – are inexpensive and often produced by small software developers.

Now Apple’s component system was designed to create an environment controlled by the user – for example, word processing, where one only chooses the pieces of software that one requires for the job.

It’s tantalizing to speculate at this time, when the global corporate system seems totally out of control, whether or not the collective spirit of our time is not actually creating another system composed of equal and independent diversities capable of working collectively.”

Decades later, economists again are challenging monolithic world “operating systems”.

Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics:

If we don’t keep the global economy growing by at least 3% per year, it plunges into crisis. That means we have to double the size of the economy every 20 years, just to stay afloat. It doesn’t take much to realise that this imperative for exponential growth makes little sense given the limits of our finite planet.

Growth has been the main object of development for the past 70 years, despite the fact that it’s not working. Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion.

In other words, growth isn’t an option any more – we’ve already grown too much. Scientists are now telling us that we’re blowing past planetary boundaries at breakneck speed.”

“We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.

This is not new information. Almost half a century ago, Fritz Schumacher (a friend of Kohl’s) wrote Small is Beautiful; Economic Development as if People Mattered.

UK economist Schumacher represented his government during the reconstruction of Germany post World War 2 and he was economic consultant to the UK coal mines.

Schumacher warned of “economism”, “gigantism”, and asked – hasn’t anybody heard of malignant growth? “The idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth is to him a perverse idea which must not be allowed to surface. A small minority of economists is at present beginning to question how much further “growth” will be possible, since infinite growth in a finite environment is an obvious impossibility.”

Production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.

He warned: “An unemployed man is a desperate man and he is practically forced into migration. This is another justification that the provision of work opportunities is the primary need and should be the primary objective of economic planning.

Schumacher’s distinction as an economist was that he was actually concerned about the welfare of the masses, the people, and not about making the rich more wealthy. He proposed an “intermediate technology” and I attended a large demonstration of the Intermediate Technology Group at a college in Barbados. In the 90s it was also widespread in the UK.

The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines. I have named it intermediate technology to signify that it is vastly superior to the primitive technology of bygone ages but at the same time much simpler, cheaper and freer than the super-technology of the rich. One can also call it self-help technology, or democratic or people’s technology.

One of the worst environmental disasters faced by Nova Scotians is clear cutting – the deforestation of the province to , for example, export wood chip/pellet fuel to European industry; to supply an Indonesian owned pulp and paper mill in Pictou, and to run a out-of-province-owned so called biomass plant in Port Hawkesbury.(Greepeace has published warnings about the Indonesian Sinar Mas/AFP takeover, its destruction of rainforests and its untariffed dumping of exports in Canadian markets.)

Meanwhile Nova Scotia lumber mills are forced to close and the market is flooded with inferior lumber brought in by out of province companies such as Irving (Bermuda?).

Almost two decades ago the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation produced a value added (secondary processing) wood products strategy.

The following is a summary of some of the major value-added product categories represented in Nova Scotia. (Source: Nova Scotia Department of Finance, Nova Scotia Manufacturers – 1998) – Architectural Millwork – Bentwood – Boats – Buildings, Prefabricated – Carvings/ Sculpture – Caskets – Clocks – Commercial Cabinets – Crates, wooden – Crafts, wood – Custom Cabinets – Doors – Fencing – Flooring – Furniture, Chairs – Furniture, Custom – Furniture, Household – Furniture, Office – Furniture, Outdoor – Furniture, Parts – Furniture Reproductions – Kitchen Cabinets – Kitchen accessories – Millwork – Mouldings – Picture Frames – Siding – Toys – Turnings – Windows – Woodenware.

It’s not really that complicated if there is the political will to stop “kissing the boots” of foreign corporations and instead focus on provincial autonomy – and the people of Nova Scotia.

Schumacher again:

This extraordinary preoccupation with exports – It is really a hangover of the economic days of colonialism. Of course, the metropolitan power moved into a territory not because it was particularly interested in the local population, but in order to open up resources needed for its own industry.”

“Economic development is something much wider and deeper than economics, let alone econometrics. Its roots lie outside the economic sphere, in education, organization, discipline and, beyond that, in political independence and national consciousness of self-reliance.”

We do not have to continue to accept an “operating system” that is destroying our environment and preventing us from experiencing a Nova Scotian “quality of life”.

“Bhutan is being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda.”

“It has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.”

Says Bhutan’s minister of education about his country’s index of Gross National Happiness (endorsed by the UN in 2011) : “We believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the wellbeing of its people, which is being borne by what is happening in the outside world.

I was teaching communication technology overseas when the Nova Scotia government held a major referendum (its only referendum, as far as I’m aware).

The question was whether people wanted big corporate stores to be able to open on Sundays. (There was no barrier to small, local stores, restaurants, farmers markets – just the big corporations. Most local businesses chose to take the day off.)

The majority voted to keep the big corporate businesses closed. Some people obviously voted for religious reasons but trade unionists feared it would further big business dominance over the workforce, and most people – I expect – just wanted that one day a week to spend with their families.

This referendum – the only time Nova Scotians have been allowed to make a democratic governance choice – was rejected when two grocery chains – Sobey’s and Loblaw’s – opposed the will of the people.

They won – of course – clearly demonstrating how fragile the concept of democracy in Nova Scotia.

Nevertheless, the people’s choice on the referendum showed that the Ivany critics are correct – Nova Scotians care more for quality of life than economism.

Economism can be described as the pursuit of immediate personal (corporate) economic interests instead of long-term collective interests of society as a whole.

Our view is that community is more than an aggregate of individuals. Realization of community means an awareness of a greater whole than oneself – the common good.

So what can be done? Schumacher is right – we must assert political independence and self reliance – we must overcome the colonial attitudes that have dominated the province for hundreds of years – to the detriment of ordinary people who live here – from the early horrendous attacks on the Mi’Kmaq (Boston states bounties on mutilated women and children?) and the deported to-steal-their-land Acadians to the people of today living in poverty and/or forced to go away to find work.

In the long run the educational system must be modified to suit the needs of the people rather than training for large corporations. We must have an educational system in which students can Learn to Stay rather than Learn to Leave. But that will take time.

The immediate objective of reform should be the Nova Scotia government. As adult educator Moses Coady observed back in the 30s: “In the first place, the selection of candidates is often made by businessmen and those associated with them. When the party machine has elected the candidates, people are asked to vote for them. The tendency is for candidates to represent the interests that put them in power. They have no real mandate from the people and consequently they are inclined to look on political life as a private career.”

So the solution is to abandon the political party system and professional politicians who represent corporate values and interests – and change to a process similar, indeed, to municipal governance.

Instead we as voters can support independent candidates who in turn will represent coalitions of civic groups and causes instead of corporate political parties.

So that’s it – election coming up – it’s our choice – continue with an operating system of arrogant, P.T. Barnum governance for corporate greed or begin the change so we and our children can control our future and enjoy a Nova Scotian quality of life.

Small is Beautiful. EF Schumacher.<
Masters of Their Own Destiny. Moses Coady.
Jason Hickel. Global Development Professionals Network. The Guardian.
Bert Brecht. Those Who Deprive the Table of Meat.
Leopold Kohr. The Break Down of Nations. Article by Paul Kingsworth. The Guardian. CTV Atlantic interview of Nova Scotia Liberal Party premier.
David Vardy guest post. Des Sullivan blog.
Andrew Younger Blog.
Ivany Report. Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians.
Greenpeace. Asia Pulp and Paper/Sinar Mas. Also Globe and Mail.
State of Rural Canada Report.
Roger Epp. The Political Deskilling of Rural Communities.
Michael Corbett. Learning to Leave – The Irony of Schooling in a Coastal Community.
Stephanie Taylor. Halifax Media Co-op.
Information on Muskrat Falls and the Maritime Link. CBC News. The Independent.Ca The Chronicle Herald. The Telegram.
Company information: Moodys Investor Service. Business Week. Federal Register.
Wikipedia. Lower Churchill Project.