Photo by: Arturo Alvarez
CANADA: TRUDEAU BUYING EXPENSIVE JETS WHILE IMPLEMENTING AUSTERITY MEASURES
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently greenlighted the defence department for the purchase of 88 F-35 jets to replace the current CF-18s, which were built in the 1980s, over the course of the next decade. The decision was an expensive one that involved negotiations with the U.S.A. and weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. and aircraft-engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney. The total price tag associated with the purchase when it’s fully realized and including maintenance is estimated to reach the $70 billion mark.
While MPs across the aisle are right to be upset at Trudeau for going back on his word when it comes to purchasing the F-35s and for spending so much on the military during an inflationary crisis, their solutions are still to implement austerity measures to discipline workers. This response to inflation was institutionalized when Margaret Thatcher took office in the U.K. in the ‘70s. The idea is that by raising interest rates it will stop workers from borrowing and limit the money supply. This is because the neoliberal dogma since Thatcher is that inflation is a monetary issue simple and plain, even though OPEC’s oil prices stabilized on their own bringing prices in the U.K. down.
The truth is that inflation is largely due to energy prices — specifically fossil fuels — as the pandemic and sanctions have slowed production due to decreased activity. Monetary discipline is a technique of subduing workers and their increased buying power under inflation by driving them into poverty and unemployment to get prices down, when the prices are often at the whims of necessary global commodities like oil.
But how does that explain the soaring grocery prices?
Natural gas is an essential ingredient for fertilizers and as the price of natural gas has soared, so too has the price of food production.
While we should be upset at Trudeau for spending billions on the military instead of helping everyday Canadians who are struggling to feed themselves and stay employed, turning this into a “the government has lost control on their spending” easily dovetails with the austerity-driven disciplinary policies of Thatcherism. While Poilievre is right to hit on the key interest rates soaring at the Bank of Canada, it’s all a la carte for his belief that the government should just get out of the way of oil tycoons and unfettered corporate self-determination.
U.S.A.: JOE BIDEN MOVES THE NEEDLE ON STUDENT DEBT FORGIVENESS, HOW ABOUT FORGIVING IT ALTOGETHER?
Joe Biden has had a lukewarm relationship with student loan debt, having run his campaign for president with $10,000 of student debt forgiveness across the country, which those in the Republican party called reckless spending while justice democrats said it didn’t go far enough.
Justice democrats were right and Joe Biden’s meted out record of debt forgiveness since the summer, from extending the moratorium for student loan payments with the Inflation Reduction Act back in August to this recent amendment to the Revised Pay As You Earn plan (REPAYE), has proved that debt forgiveness is the way forward for the country. A significant change in the REPAYE plan is that single low-income individuals will pay $0 of monthly payments with no interest accruing so long as they fall within the income bracket of less than $35,000 on a yearly basis.
The next step, which Biden’s middle-of-the-road approach to governance likely won’t venture into, is student debt forgiveness, full-stop. The only ones who lose in that scenario are for-profit universities, or the United States can continue to live in a fantasy where $1.6 trillion of student loan debt will be accounted for at some later date.
With the debt forgiven there will be an immediate payoff in the form of stimulation in the economy, more purchasing power for the average American is good for the market writ large.
INTERNATIONAL: IRAN AND GERONTOCRACY
Iran has been at the centre of global news since the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman in her 20s, at the hands of the state’s morality police has led to the largest protests the country has seen in nearly two decades. Recently, Iran’s regime has been executing protestors and hanging their bodies on cranes to prevent open dissent, leading protests underground.
Iranians have been fighting women’s rights to not be persecuted by state authorities for their attire and conduct for decades. This is hardly new in Iran’s history. After the 1979 revolution which overthrew the shah and replaced the monarchy with a theocracy, women were immediately outraged by the harshly-imposed hijab law. This was especially jarring considering the Reza Shah, nearly a century before, mandated the removal of the veil and pushed for women’s education en masse.
This is why framing the Iranian struggle as that of theocratic “backwardism” against secular human rights doesn’t quite capture the whole picture. An important aspect of the current struggle in Iran is gerontocracy—rulership of the elderly.
The idea goes all the way back to the West’s most famous conservative thinker, Plato. Plato wholeheartedly believed in rulership of the elderly: “it is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit.” This sentiment finds a historical eastern-counterpart in the strict hierarchies predicated on age that are integral to Confucian thought on civil structures.
Theocracy and gerontocracy dovetail well because religious elders are often perceived as containing a greater wisdom towards religious scripture and praxis based solely on their age. This creates an insular, homogenous assembly of leaders who feel themselves to have a privileged right to rulership.
It’s no wonder, then, that as those below are fighting the out-of-touch leadership in Iran with its lack of internal fissures due to the use of political repression, the same government is supporting a like-minded Russia in terms of repressive rule with military aid for the Ukraine war.
HISTORICO-THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS: CAPITALISM, COLONIALISM AND THE IRISH POTATO FAMINE
Irish folks to this day hold a resentment towards the persecution they faced from British throughout the country’s history. Over 150 years later, the Great Famine still looms heavy in the minds of Ireland where an estimated one million Irish perished from starvation, dysentery and fever.
It’s an important historical moment because it’s perhaps one of the greatest examples of the viciousness that capitalism and colonialism can exact when coupled.
While many point to Jamestown, Virginia as Britain’s first colony, it was a few centuries before when in 1155 Pope Adrian IV gave Henry II full authority over Ireland. With the Act of Union in 1801, the Irish Parliament was abolished. The act was used for wartime measures against the French, and didn’t address social, religious or political grievances in Ireland.
The Irish land was arable for a select few crops, and potatoes were a strategic choice because they were hardy and calorie-dense. In fact, by the time of the Famine in the mid-19th century, roughly half of Ireland’s population had a diet solely based on potatoes.
Then, a potato blight ravaged the nation’s potato crops, causing mass starvation which was only exacerbated by British policy. Britain was in financial straits with speculation crashing with an overabundance of wheat and corn stock and so the plight of the Irish was sidelined. Colonial administrator Charles Trevelyan had instituted the Poor Tax in 1834, which set up workhouses for paupers in order to receive relief. This led to many able-bodied landholders giving up their land so they could qualify for workhouse relief, as anyone holding over a quarter-acre of land didn’t qualify.
Britain setup roughly 130 unions run by the Boards of Guardians to collect revenues from the workhouses. With the unions in massive debt by 1847, the British double-downed and pushed the Guardians to collect every penny they could. Thus, the blame was placed on landlords and farmers for not raising enough revenue for food provisions. By 1849, the blight was back due to the climate being moist and cool, a perfect climate for the fungus to thrive once again. The British kept levying harsh taxes on the land owners to the point where they were ejecting tenants and tearing down acres of their land just to avoid paying the immense rates of the British.
British Prime Minister John Russell, a liberal whig, suggested that the British were doing everything and that it was the Irish who had failed to take the opportunities for work in exchange for food provisions. As tenants were evicted by landlords, they treacherously magnetized towards the nearest workhouse. Starving and clothed only by rags in the winter; it was essentially a death sentence.
Many Irish uprisings occurred against landlords, and while certainly the institution of landlordship is dubious and inhuman, so much so that the father of modern economics Adam Smith even said that the landlord “reaps where they have not sowed,” they were a bulwark between the British, with their ruthless colonial policies of profit extraction, and the Irish population.
This is one of the long lasting legacies of colonialism and ruthless capitalism.
Irish republican socialist, Jame Connolly, a trade unionist, revolutionary and member of the Industrial Workers of the World as well as a leader in the Easter Rising, was a man profoundly informed and moulded by vicious British control of Ireland. For that reason he reminded the world:
“The cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of Labour.”