What to expect in 2013

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The great French novelist Gustave Flaubert famously declared pleasure "as found first in anticipation, and later in memory."

A New Year brings anticipation -- of the unforeseen. We can expect pleasures ... and be sure of uncertainties. The future will include memories of the past, and, yes, promises to bring us more of the same.

Economic matters will spoil many a day after the New Years Eve party. Canadian families struggling with household debt will be no more willing to spend in 2013 than in recent years. Save, not spend, in order to pay off the interest on past debts -- that is an injunction with major social consequences. Weak current spending ensures little economic expansion.

So long as paying down debt remains a priority, the outlook for jobs and incomes will remain poor. Debt reduction produces debt deflation, which remains the main narrative for the foreseeable future, and not just in Canada.

Debt deflationary forces are at work across Europe, and the U.S. as well. Anticipating no economic upturn, business sits on what the next Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney called a pile of dead money.

Led by Carney, the Bank of Canada pursues low interest policies, as does the U.S. Federal Reserve. The result is to pump up asset prices, not reflate spending. Bond prices are held high, the cost of carrying securities portfolios is kept low. Bank balance sheets look artificially strong as a result.

Sky-high performance bonuses reward bankers for central bank policy. Savers receive next to nothing as interest payments, and spend little more.

Austerity is the worst possible government response to debt deflation. Taking from those who have more than they need, and giving to those who do not have enough, makes more sense. Knowingly, or unthinkingly, the wealthy prefer austerity instead. The 1 per cent operate outside society, enjoying protection from tax havens, for riches accumulated by whatever means.

Adam Smith, who is wrongly characterized as championing selfishness, pointed to empathy -- the ability to see the world from the point of view of others -- as what made society work. Austerity represents not as much the failure of empathy, as it does the triumph of financial interests over the public interest. Even champions of the much vaunted "middle class" ask us to identify with the powerful.

Not about to become a memory, the #IdleNoMore protests will gain strength and support. Elsewhere, successors to the democracy movements of the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, Occupy Wall Street and the Quebec student action will get noticed. Whatever their roots in disaffection or anger, people protesting injustice only seemingly come out of nowhere.

In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest turned a deaf ear to the student protests against tuition hikes, and a future marked by debt peonage. Prime Minister Stephen Harper follows the same course of action faced with the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence. While #PMSH gambles #IdleNoMore will blow away like the snow on Victoria Island next to Parliament Hill where @ChiefTheresa fasts for justice, social movement activists have other ideas.

In the age of mobile communications, political action can be organized more quickly, because information can be shared more widely, and more readily. Mobilization and solidarity go together, feeding each other.

When the Charest government tried to make protest illegal, instead of outlawing dissent it created more opposition. When it sought approval from the electorate, it lost power. Indifference to Aboriginals protesting injustice is rallying opposition to the Harper government, giving it a focus not there before #IdleNoMore.

Corporations may be as powerful of economic actors as ever, but corporate ability to influence public opinion through ownership of the media is not producing the same predictable results. Because of the Internet, alternatives to "manufactured consent" as media content find a broader audience. Views, voices and images outside the mainstream framing of news get noticed, heard, and seen as never before. Twitter and Facebook amplify independent media such as rabble.ca.

Corporate power does dominate governments as before. Harper's Chief of Staff is a Bay Street insider, for instance. While the Harper government consents an estimated $60 billion in corporate tax cuts, it remains committed to balancing the budget by 2015 -- a key Bay Street demand -- by cutting socially useful expenditures on healthcare and income support. Instead of domestic spending, the Conservatives want to waste about $47 billion to acquire a  "first strike" force of F-35 fighters, without revealing who it is we are supposed to attack.

Wall Street operators who lost covered bets on sub-prime mortgages, and found that their credit default insurance was no good, proved algorithms unreliable predictors of the future. However social science can foretell outcomes of regularly scheduled events, as author Nate Silver showed by correctly calling the result of the U.S. presidential election in all 50 states.

Looking ahead to the year that begins today, we can expect to be surprised by what awaits us. The unforeseen will be appear unannounced on the calendar, welcome or not. As for pleasure, whether as anticipation or memory, New Years day is for making a wish, or for a resolution; and the New Year, for getting ready to welcome pleasure, and to share it.

 

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

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