Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bread and Circuses

I remember the bad old days of the late 1980s and '90s when government economic policy was bankrupt on almost every level having to do with Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

This was the time when the best the Peckfordians could do was rant, rave and establish make-work programs to shovel people off of Income Support (welfare to those uninitiated in government-speak) and onto UI where they'd be the federal government's problem and expense.

The Feds had no problem with this and opened the taps themselves by initiating all kinds of support programs. These programs were sold as fisherpeople retraining opportunities and such. In fact these were primarily waiting-for-fish-to-breed programs.

In the end, the "solution" was to open hitherto unfished species, the so called "underutilised" species to the same old environmental collectivist rape and pillage. Since then we've utilised the hell out of them so they too have gone into resource and price collapse.

So you might have thought that the governments would have learned by now that a root and branch restructuring of the fishery, along with biting the bullet on the social upheaval that comes along with that, is the long-term solution that would get us out of this long-term mess we're in.

But you would be wrong.

Instead the Feds, manifested through the wisdom of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn, have initiated a Bread and Circus strategy.

Just a few weeks ago, Minister Hearn announced a special deal on EI to allow more people get more EI longer. This is on top of the provincial announcement of make-work projects on the Burin peninsula.

This is the Bread part: pass around enough dough in the form of special programs to keep people off Income Support but not enough to allow them to live the life to which they had become accustomed. Maybe they'll stick around, maybe they'll leave. In any case, it will be their choice and government is off the hook having successfully ducked the responsibility for providing meaningful solutions.

The other part of the strategy is the recent federal announcements on the cod food fishery and limited cod commercial fishery. This addresses longstanding complaints from the irrational wing of the catch-them-all school of environmental devastation represented by such upstanding policy wonks as Jim Morgan and his comrade in arms Rick Bouzan. Notably, every last reputable scientist worth his or her sea-salt who has come out on this has said this is a silly idea with possible long-term negative consequences.

This is the Circus part: giving people a distraction and it's best if it's at no cost to you. As long as people are focused on what they think they want and what they think might do them good, you can make them forget about what they really need for long-term prosperity. Will a food fishery address the current industry problems in any way other than thinning out an already thin stock? If so, please let me know because it's opaque to me.

So what is Bread and Circuses about? It's about minimizing government effort and political liability. It's about buying time while hoping that some real solution will come by. It's about hoping people will get fed up, leave and take the problem with them.

As laissez-faire economics hidden under the guise of caring and faux vigorous pseudo-activity, it is deceptive social and economic policy at it's best.

So far so good.

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