- John Thornhill talks to Mariana Mazzucato about the importance of public investment in fostering economic growth - along with the need for the public to benefit as a result:
As Mazzucato explains it, the traditional way of framing the debate about wealth creation is to picture the private sector as a magnificent lion caged by the public sector. Remove the bars, and the lion roams and roars. In fact, she argues, private sector companies are rarely lions; far more often they are kittens. Managers tend to be more concerned with cutting costs, buying back their shares and maximising their share prices (and stock options) than they are in investing in research and development and boosting long-term growth.- Monia Mazigh slams Stephen Harper for his tiresome fearmongering. And Doug Saunders writes that governments more thoughtful than the Cons are realizing that the main risk lies in people looking for a set of beliefs as an excuse to put destructive tendencies into action - not in people who hold a particular set of beliefs to begin with.
“As soon as I started looking at these issues, I started realising how much language matters. If you just talk about the state as a facilitator, as a de-risker, as an incentiviser, as a fixer of market failures, it ends up structuring what you do,” she says. But the state plays a far more creative role, she insists, in terms of declaring grand missions (the US ambition to go to the moon, or the German goal of creating nuclear-free energy), and investing in the early-stage development of many industries, including semiconductors, the internet and fracking. “You always require the state to roar.”
There is a similar challenge with green technologies: how to create “systems of innovation” that provide a clear, publicly mandated direction and incentivise private-sector companies to jump on board. Mazzucato believes that Steve Jobs’ famous injunction to budding entrepreneurs — “Stay hungry, stay foolish” — should apply to the public sector, too. Why is failure worn as a badge of honour in Silicon Valley but viewed as a source of shame in government?
“We are living in a depressing era in which we no longer have courage. We no longer think governments should have missions. But the market never chooses anything. IT wasn’t chosen by the market. Biotech wasn’t chosen by the market. Nanotech wasn’t chosen by the market. So why should green technology be chosen by the market? It comes back to the austerity craziness that we’re in today where governments are not allowed to dream; and green is a dream.”
- Amy Dempsey reports on the John Howard Society's findings as to how Ontario's justice system is doing nothing but harm by looking to punish people for mental health problems. And Bill Graveland reports on Kathleen Ganley's recognition that access to justice generally is a serious problem in Alberta (as it is elsewhere).
- Finally, Andre Picard argues that a strong civil service is necessary to building a healthy society. And Ryan Meili offers his take on what we've lost as a result of a decade of the Cons' government by wilful ignorance:
(I)n order to guide policy in ways that will improve our lives the most –that improvement being best measured by improvements in our health and wellbeing – we need to understand what is happening in a wide variety of fields. We need to be gathering new data, interpreting that information, and communicating its implications to decision-makers and the public.
In the last ten years decisions have instead been made to keep Canadians ignorant of the reality of our circumstances. The most obvious and egregious of these has been the cancellation of the long-form census, which has left a glaring gap in our ability to collect the data needed to make smart decisions. Even if a future government should reinstate a proper census, there has already been an irreplaceable loss of essential knowledge.
Dozens of agencies that interpret data and perform original research have been eliminated or deeply cut. These have been in varied fields, including women’s health, Aboriginal health, environmental surveillance and many more, prompting protests from the typically politically reticent scientific community, including the grim Death of Evidence funeral march on parliament, and the birth of organizations like Evidence for Democracy dedicated to highlighting how important scientific information is if citizens are to make well-informed decisions.
Along with the decrease in information being gathered or analyzed have come deliberate barriers to communicating what we do know. From muzzling of government scientists to deep cuts to the CBC, the story of science and knowledge is being increasingly silenced. The strategy is simple, and sinister: if there is no data, there is no way to be held accountable. If people don’t see the way in which decisions being made are worsening the quality of their lives, they can be convinced to continue to vote in favour of policies that hurt them.
The war on knowledge is a war on the health of Canadians. We need a government that will embrace the information age and use evidence to improve our lives. We need a government that has the health of Canadians as its greatest priority. Ten years in, it’s clear that that government is not Stephen Harper’s.