DEMOCRACY AND THE STATE

 In classical totalitarianism “economics was subordinated to politics. Under inverted totalitarianism . . . economics dominates politics.”

“Almost from the beginning of the Cold War, the citizenry, supposedly the source of governmental power and authority as well as a participant, has been replaced by the “electorate”, that is, by voters who acquire a political life at election time. During the intervals between elections the political existence of the citizenry is relegated to a shadow-citizenship of virtual participation. Instead of participating in power, the virtual citizen is invited to have “opinions”: measurable responses to questions predesigned to deliver them.”   – Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton, 2008,2010

Rev. Bill Chu of Chinese Christians in Action in B.C., commenting on the BC government refusal to act on evidence that coastal fish farms are destroying wild salmon stocks, writes:

“When we emigrated from the former British colony of Hong Kong, we were excited at finally having a chance to vote in a “democratic” Canada. Yet after almost forty years and watching this, I agree Canada is more a “corporatocracy” where corporations having achieved immortality by incorporation, are able to remote control the government.” Elections, he says, work like the gladiator games in the Roman Colosseum. “During election, political hopefuls are let loose and are allowed to smear others and even deceive the public about parties’ performances. The goal apparently is not to raise or debate real issues, but to entertain and numb the masses from the memory of broken promises and corruption ... $ millions are spent on attack ads, image consultants, robocalls, polls and lawn signs, bringing the make believe battle into homes across BC. To rouse the citizens further, wild animals (spin doctors) are unexpectedly released to cause more excitement.” 

So what does this mean for food sovereignty?

“We need to organize thousands of local economies in response to the economics of globalization,” suggests our friend Ray Epp in Japan.

It most obviously means an end to the deeply embedded Canadian agricultural policy dedicated to production for export. We choose these words carefully. ‘Production’ characterizes industrial agriculture that is measured by quantity, not quality or satisfaction of human needs with respect for the land and future generations. It becomes essentially another exercise in mining. Maximizing exports provides corporate profit and feeds that virtual demon, ‘the economy’ in the short term. Nothing else counts, quite literally.
So Globe & Mail columnist Barrie McKenna reports that “many experts [say] that Canada has all the competitive advantages to be a food-export colossus – if only it would overhaul supply management.” McKenna cites an American economist who says that Canada is “missing out on exploding demand for milk and chicken in emerging countries.” Apart from wondering what an “emerging country” is, we have to wonder why these “emerging countries” are not providing their own milk and chicken. Perhaps it has something to do with who controls their agriculture and to what end. Perhaps it has to do with land grabs and production of biofuels for export.  McKenna concludes his column: “It’s up to Canadians to determine if Ottawa is protecting a thriving economic force or. . . propping up an economic dead-weight.”                            – GM, 3/6/13 

We find it hard to think of milk cows and chickens as economic forces, or agriculture as “economic dead-weight”.  But then, we don’t write for the capitalist press either.

Our disappearing democracy hampers our efforts to feed ourselves (all of us, that is) while letting others feed themselves without being forced to become markets for our corporate exports. It would be bad news for our Gross Domestic Product if we were to construct a food system that is more labour intensive and small scale and much less capital intensive, but good for our health and the health of the environment. In fact, one good measure of a healthy economy might be a diminishing GDP, which would indicate an increasing self-reliance and autonomy.

From the higher ground, we can observe that industrial monoculture, with its rigidities, is likely to be hugely affected by climate change. We are aware of the necessity of maintaining, if not increasing, biological diversity, but structural diversity is also important. The monocultural business model that dominates our food system must be fractured, broken down into more efficient, localized units that may well – and should – work cooperatively even while their structures and governance are increasingly differentiated. It is even quite feasible for such small units to do well within the current context – as long as both parties understand how they each play the game and respect the differences. For example, Northumberlamb, a small local farmer-run cooperative, has done business for 30 years with one of the three largest grocery chains in the country. However, the cooperators have to be clear about and true to their principles and not be  tempted to become baby capitalists.

Another argument in favour of such a direction is reflected in recent headlines in both the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail: “Canada threatens U.S. over meat labels” and “Ottawa ups ante in U.S. trade dispute”. At issue is U.S. labeling policy, implemented in 2008, that requires the labeling of meat at the retail level as to country of origin. Ag. Minister Gerry Ritz insisted “we will continue to stand with Canadian hog and cattle producers against mandatory country-of-origin labelling.” The WTO ruled a year ago that this discriminated against Canada and Mexico and gave the U.S. until this past May to conform to WTO demands.
The response of the U.S. has, however, been to require more complete identification of meat as to where it was born, raised, and slaughtered. These rules cut Canadian shipments of cattle to the US by 50% and hogs by 58% . The industry simply “found it cheaper to source meat in the USA rather than truck it through a long cross-border food chain.”

The real issue, of course, is export-based agriculture. Instead of rattling the sword of retaliation, Ritz should repent his dedication to export agriculture and call for an ag policy of diversification and self-sufficiency. Hog and beef ‘producers’ would have to rethink their production model, which would be a very good thing. But would Cargill, in charge of so much of the beef business, be glad to restructure its business to support local production for regional, or at least national, markets?