Laizzez-faire” liberals were in favour of expanding personal rights and liberties, but they believed that government should remain “hands off” on the economy. (Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand.”) In contrast, New Deal liberals saw government as an active shaper of economic opportunity, security, and relative equality.
Libertarians distrust government in all but its most basic function, which is simply to keep someone else from messing with their personal wealth and privilege. Then there are the neoliberals, who are often confused with libertarians but who demand that government play an active role in the economy. The neoliberal idea of a perfect government is one that supports and facilitates the free market.
Another must-read book is Chris Turner’s The War on Science (the source of this article’s title) which shows with alarming clarity that one of the worst consequences of the radical neoliberalism practiced by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in Canada is his government’s systematic dismantling of the fact-based science that had long characterized Canada’s public policy.
As with Harperism, The War on Science has relevance beyond Canada’s borders. A particularly-virulent version of this distrust of objective science is rampant south of the border, in the United States.
Canada was once a world leader in environmental research and conservation. Now, Turner charges, “Canada’s track record on greenhouse gas emissions ranks dead last among G8 nations, and the Conference Board of Canada placed Canada fifteenth out of the world’s seventeen richest nations in overall environmental stewardship.”
How did this happen?
Harper’s government is profoundly, radically neoliberal. The consuming purpose of a neoliberal government is to promote economic growth. Therefore, government “investment” in science can be justified only insofar as it furthers this goal.
Once Harper’s Conservatives gained a majority in the 2011 election, they could roll out their full anti-science, anti-fact agenda without the fear of immediate defeat that had curtailed their previous minority governments’ actions. And to protect against possible defeat in the 2015 election (scheduled for October) Harper’s government has systematically mischaracterized and obfuscated their truly radical restructuring of the functioning of government.
While there are other reasons, notably the fundamentalist Christianity practiced by many prominent Conservatives (including the Prime Minister), the essential motivation of the changes is market-driven economic ideology.
Among many other changes, the Harper government inserted into omnibus tax bills and other legislation pro-corporate, anti-environment provisions that
(1) reduced the number of protected bodies of water in Canada from 2,000,000 to 162 [!]
(2) changed the mandate of the Dept. of Fisheries to the study of only “valuable” species
(3) eliminated all funding for the world-renowned “Experimental Lakes Area”
(4) introduced a more rigourous auditing process for NGOs suspected of “abusing” their charitable society tax breaks by engaging in “political action” (i.e., opposing government policy)
(5) repurposed The National Research Council as, according to one cabinet minister, a “concierge” for business and industry
Turner demonstrates that the Harper government’s goal is to cripple the once-independent research of Canada’s scientific civil service so that the government — and the public — simply won’t become aware of the negative consequences of all-out neoliberal support for resource extractors and their other big-profit corporate friends.
With most university research funded by corporations or underwritten by government, and with government science agencies eliminated or refocused, who’s going to inform the government — and the public — when neoliberalism is, as it intends to be, indifferent to social and environmental needs that do not translate into a bigger bottom line?
This is the “wilful neglect” in Turner’s title. It’s a cynical — and sadly effective — way to run a country.
Right into the ground.