Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Politics After Economics

While channel surfing this past weekend I landed on TVO’s Big Ideas program and saw Andrew Coyne giving a talk about his notion that we are moving into an era post-economics. Here is the video below:

In case you chose not to watch I will summarize. Mr. Coyne suggests that we are approaching a common consensus on the key economic questions. The left and right in this and other countries have reached agreement on many of the big questions of the day. Market capitalism has triumphed, and since the end of the Cold War new notions of how it should be managed have taken root. Mr. Coyne provides a number of examples, such as, the left in Canada rarely proposes government ownership of industries or resources. Nationalization and central planning are dead tenants. Free trade, once a hotly contested issue is now accepted by the Conservative and Liberal Parties. Even parts of the NDP accept NAFTA and other trade agreements as positive developments. Even if the NDP win the next federal election it is highly unlikely they will cancel any trade agreements.

Likewise on the right the passion and drive for deregulation and liberation of markets has died down substantially. The 1980s cured the right of many of the most obvious examples of state involvement in the economy. The big battles are over for them. Now they trim around the edges. Andrew Coyne proposes that markets and government are now finding the proper respective places. Idealistically he sees that government will continue to do what it does best – tax and redistribute wealth in the economy, and the market will do what it does best – set prices and produce needed goods and services.

It is the conclusions of his thesis I find most interesting. From the mid-19th century to roughly the present there has been competition between right and left about the role of the state. Socialists, libertarians, liberals, conservatives, statists, and on and on have debated the proper relationship between the two (state and market). Emerging from this conflict we have arrived at some sort of conclusion. Policies such as price setting and quotas have disappeared, free trade is here to stay, and so forth.

The means that democratic politics in Canada (and other parts of the West) may pivot to be about other things. Mr. Coyne acknowledges he has no idea what the future will look like, but he postulates at some of the obvious, like social issues and foreign policy. Looking back at the British Parliamentary debates before 1850 discussion surrounded matters like governance of the Empire, democratic rights, and foreign relations. Perhaps in the near-future the House of Commons will have consensus on matters economic and the fight will turn to Canada’s relations with the developing world, and more philosophical questions stemming from debates about human life, and biotechnology and advanced computer technology. There may be more troubling problems to confront, like the impacts of climate change, or the continued fallout of globalization (i.e. rapid contagion of disease).

While I think I would enjoy less acrimony over economic issues I do not look forward to increasing debate on cultural and philosophical issues. The recent tussle over the abortion issue is a preview I would not like to relive on a frequent basis. In a world where New Democrats, Liberals, Greens and Conservatives all agree on economics it just means they would (and will) find something else to scream at each other about.

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