Economic depression and the Ford effect

By Pat Watson Wednesday December 18 2013 in Opinion
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So Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford spent a recent afternoon pealing $20 bills off a wad of cash and handing them to people who live in a rent-geared-to-income housing project. In response, upholders of the status quo were appalled.


Well here’s a warning: There have been socio-political upheavals in places like Germany between the two World Wars or Jamaica in the 1970s that would serve as useful reference for Toronto in days to come. If we want to see where this city could be headed, politically, socially, economically, then a look at what has happened in such places could be beneficial.


There is a sense of shock at how the Fords are intruding on the way politics is done here, but the style of politics as presented by these men and the fact that it finds a willing audience/electorate is a sign of our times.


The Ford phenomenon connects to the Kellogg Company shifting 500 jobs out of Ontario to Thailand and the plan by Canada Post’s decision-makers to end employment for close to 1000 workers. We keep hearing about the growing divide between the rich – make that the super-rich – and the poor. We hear Justin Trudeau talk about working to save the middle-class. He needs to stop referring to the middle-class and get real; these are the growing poor class.


When poor people who are desperate, without jobs and no real prospects for the future, see they have someone who will pay attention to them – whether or not in truth such individuals will necessarily help them to solve their problems – they will throw support behind that person. They will do it for $20. Later, they will do it if that person tells them they have an enemy in whomever that person opposes.


Later, those poor people, and especially the unemployed young men who have little hope, will become the militia for those individuals. They will go to them on a Friday evening for more money to enjoy their weekend and sooner or later they will arm themselves in allegiance to that politician or that political party. This stuff is not fantasy. It happened in Jamaica during the 1970s and 80s. It happened because people are poor and wanted power and a better life. What they ended up with instead was a lot of dead bodies.


We are slipping into precarious times when we lean into the character of leadership represented by the public personality of a Rob Ford.


History has a way of repeating itself, if we are not careful to pay attention to recurring patterns. We are leaning into a time when the super-rich are becoming the ultra-rich and the 99 per cent are slipping into despair. No one in charge of any government wants to say it, but a few economists have whispered the word. We are in an economic depression – the early 21st Century version, at least here in the northern countries that had grown accustomed, post-World War II, to a booming economy based on manufacturing and other industries that were features of this economy.


At the other end, the economies of so-called Third World countries (now labeled emerging economies or developing nations) were, up until recently, where these same northern regions now seem to be heading.


Those here who are on the losing end are primed for someone to blame. And primed for a saviour. So we blame the one-percenters, that same ultra-rich.


From that group, ironically, come the Ford brothers, millionaire populist politicians with the reassuring message that they will work for the little guy.


Does this story sound familiar: The villains are the elites who take advantage of the masses of working poor who are in an economic depression precisely because of the machinations of those wealthy elites. There is a hero who promises to make life better and a group that has self-identified as victims of the grasping rich.


This city’s social currency in the mainstream relies on middle-class values. As such, many outside of the growing economic ghettoes – which by the way are racialized – are appalled by the Ford effect.


This city is in for a rude awakening.

A note on passing the torch…


As Nelson Mandela’s journey ends with his interment in his ancestral home of Qunu, the world asks, who is the next Mandela?

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