Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And Now, John Ralston Saul on Big Ideas

After I wrote all that yesterday, I finally finished reading "A Fair Country" and found a passage near the end where Saul sums it all up perfectly:

If you examine the way the state organizes itself, you find that utilitarianism has reduced creative economics down to instrumental economics and even further down to classic bookkeeping. In this mindset, every action is a cost. The concept of investment is merely another cost. It is a non-conceptual approach that would have made every historic Canadian breakthrough in public policy appear to be an impossible extravagance.

It is that corner-store approach to cost that prevents us from dealing with poverty or health care or education. This is what shapes our narrow and short-term view of the environment. What is presented as being careful with the public's money is more often than not a simple failure of imagination. That means those in charge are frightened to act because real action can only be presented as a cost. This is not really an economic theory. It is well below theory. But if it were theory, it could be described as a linear approach to cost based on the assumption that society is driven by self-interest.

We built our society in quite a different way. Our ideas of fairness and inclusion have been based on an economic theory of investment, in which you create new possibilities of wealth by changing the conditions in which our society operates. To do this does take courage, consciousness, imagination, a taste for risk and an ethical sense of purpose. It is about conduct not contract. It is a way of thinking and acting.


If you haven't read this book, read it. Every politician, every Liberal, every Canadian needs to read this book. Michael Ignatieff especially needs to read this book.

I am inclined to stand on a chair in the middle of the Convention hall in Vancouver and read the entire thing aloud.

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