As wildfires burn in British Columbia and rage in California, now is a good time to contemplate one of the nastiest results of the collision — collusion? — of the corporatist’s insatiable love of profit and the neoliberal’s deification of small government.
Both of these stances zero in on the same fundamental target: taxation, in all of its forms. Not just direct taxes, graduated or not, but also those “extra” costs of doing business forced on industry by government regulation. The target is the same, for more than anything else the corporatist hates the loss of potential profit, and more than anything else the neoliberal hates the intrusion of “big government” into the marketplace.
Why is now such a good time to consider the consequences of this unholy alliance of the economic elite and the politicians it has purchased? Just look at the under-reported results.
First, there are the fires themselves — fires that are the latest outcome of increasingly rapid climate change. The climate in Northern California is turning into the climate of the state’s south, while the weather in British Columbia every year more and more resembles the Northern California climate of my youth.
Where is the climate change coming from? Despite the loud and well-financed rump of deniers, all of the responsible and respectable experts point to human causes. Chief among these are the noxious emissions of oil and coal consuming industries.
But every attempt to fight this pollution with international sanctions or national surtaxes runs into the bleating of “Profits good, taxes bad!” Corporations detest taxes, and governments can’t or won’t defy them, it seems, even to save the world.
So what happens?
First, corporations continue to rack up profits by denying climate change while fighting to avoid any financial responsibility for its consequences.
As a result, governments foot the bill. British Columbia is on track this year to spend 10 times its already generous wildfire-fighting budget. And last year, federal spending on wildfire-fighting in the U.S. topped $1,500,000,000. That’s billion, if you don’t want to count the zeros yourself.
And who pays to fight the fires? And who pays for the costs associated with increasingly frequent and violent tornados, as well as storms like Hurricane Sandy?
It’s not the corporations, or their shareholders, who famously pay a lower rate of taxes on their businesses and stock holdings than Warren Buffet’s secretary does on her salary.
No, it’s the “ordinary taxpayer,” of course, who bears the brunt of government spending. And since the corporatist funded neoliberals have forced down government revenues, the only way to finesse these extra costs without the ideological suicide of raising the federal debt is to cut other, “non-essential” services, things that the economically unprivileged need and that the top earners don’t pay enough taxes to fund.
Corporate profits sail along safely, thanks to a favourable tax system and companies’ adroitness at avoiding the costs of the climate change that their industries exacerbate.
And so the fires and the storms rage on, with their ravages combatted by taxes extracted from the bottom of the economic ladder, in a dizzying merry-go-round that leaves the earth burning and the poor in poverty.
Nice system, if you can get it!