What is Left? What is Right?

Another thoughtful post from David Brown.

David Brown

Sept. 2, 2014

At the municipal level who are the left-wingers and who are the right-wingers? What policies are progressive? What policies are conservative or regressive? There are Nanaimo councillors who self-identify as left-wing or progressive while there are others who might be labeled as right-wingers.

Is it left-wing to support bigger budgets and higher taxes? Is it progressive to be highly supportive of administration? On the other hand is it right-wing to call for a core review of City Hall functions? Is a call for a core review a “race to the bottom” as per one of Nanaimo’s (self-identifying) “left-wing” councillors?

In looking at this let us start with a few quotes.

“Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” Honore de Balzac, French realist novelist (1799 – 1850) or “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” Irish revolutionary, Jonathan Swift (1667 to 1745).

Karl Marx made among a number of comments on bureaucracy the following: “The bureaucracy is a circle from which one cannot escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived.” and “For the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him.” (In fact Marx did not really like bureaucrats who he saw as incompetent and lacking initiative and imagination.. According to Marx, bureaucracy is self-aggrandizing and characterized by the struggle for promotion, careerism and infantile attachment to trivial symbols, status and prestige.)

In Nanaimo (and other municipalities) large developers are the wasps and hornets while small businesses and individual property owners are the small flies. A large organization can devote the personnel and hire the professionals to guide it through the re-zoning or building permitting process. If Walmart has a problem with municipal regulation it hires expensive (and intimidating) lawyers from Vancouver to deal with it. The small business person who has already spent twelve hours on the shop floor, spends her evening hours trying to work her way through the bureaucratic maze.

As Marx pointed out bureaucracy is inherently self-aggrandizing no matter the objective reality. For example municipal governments in Canada and the U.S. spend increasing percentages of their budgets on policing and fire protection services notwithstanding that crime levels are significantly declining and large building fires are becoming a rarity.

Self-aggrandizing applies not only to government bureaucracy but also to corporate bureaucracy. Empire building is almost a function of human nature. The difference, however, is that the bureaucracy in a General Motors or Royal Bank of Canada is likely to be viciously pruned on occasion while the municipal bureaucracy except in the most extreme circumstances (as with Detroit, Michigan and Stockton, California, which have been put into bankruptcy), has the ability to protect itself from genuine core review.

So is it really left-wing to faithfully support ever larger fire or police departments or more and more managers of this or that. In a City of Nanaimo few property owners and no renters are drawn from the upper one per cent or even the upper ten per cent. In fact Nanaimo has one of the lower per capita incomes among B.C. municipalities. Property tax increases effect a redistribution but it is not a redistribution from the rich to the poor but more likely a redistribution from a relatively low income person (retiree, small businessperson, construction worker, store clerk, whatever) to a policeman or fireman or administrator who already has a wage well above the community mean.