The centre may not hold: Tales from Brexit, the EU, the American election and the eroding foundations of democracy

I started my career as an educator working with trade union members teaching labour history and principles of economics. Our program sponsored by the social democratic progressive NDP government of Ed Schreyer and organized by innovative technocrats at the Department of Education was a cutting edge program way ahead of its time . It was a college accredited program which offered courses to adult students in remote resource communities . It relied on video taped lectures and seminars. These were distributed to classes scattered across northern and rural Manitoba as well as to one group in Winnipeg which included young trade unionists and social democratic activists. After four exciting but demanding years of teaching in the program I left it and became a housing economist with the MHRC a crown corporation dedicated to building social and rent geared to income housing in Manitoba.

These innovative programs gave me invaluable experience in understanding and developing effective policies promoting progressive change and social reform. But they also taught me how difficult it was to achieve lasting progress. It is now more than 40 years later and what is amazing is that many of the debates, problems and policies explored then have reemerged again. Housing policies, income and wealth distribution issues, foreign control of economies, the role of globalization and transnational corporations, free trade are all hot topics again. On the left the new socialists have made a radical alliance with the environmentalists and the trade unions to argue against the centrist leaning right or leaning left forces that have dominated social democratic and liberal centrist politics for most of these decades. On the right the nationalist populist rebellion in the UK over Brexit and in the US the Trump led assault on the liberal establishment paralleled on the left by the Sanders led movement denouncing the injustices of inequality and unemployment have led to a sharp attack on the centre. The American election is fascinating for the dramatic nature of the battle royale between Trump and the liberal centrist establishment led by Hillary Clinton. But it is appalling for its vulgarity and extraordinary lack of civility and common cause.

As a Canadian observer with considerable affection for the USA and its often dynamic culture it is in some ways quite sad and worrisome to witness. Both sides have slung enormous amounts of mud at each other resulting in one of the nastiest campaigns in recent history.Thankfully it will soon be over. But I wonder about the long term damage to American democracy that may flow from it.

The latest polls whose methodologies vary greatly while still showing Clinton in the lead also suggest the margin is tightening . Indeed Trump actually leads in several tracking polls.He also appears to be leading narrowly in Florida and Ohio.If he can capture Florida, Ohio,Arizona,Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado,along with the traditional Republican majority states, Trump would have 261 electoral college votes which would be very close to the 270 electoral college votes he would need to win the presidency. Depending on how the last 10 days go this may turn out to be, contrary to the conventional wisdom, a much closer election. Given BREXIT in Europe,the backlash against globalization, the Wallonian reaction to Canada EU freer trade, the anger that Trump has stirred up about NAFTA and Clinton’s repositioning herself on trade to counter Trump, post US election Canada may well find itself in a difficult position requiring us to rethink carefully our trade weighted strategy.

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About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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One Response to The centre may not hold: Tales from Brexit, the EU, the American election and the eroding foundations of democracy

  1. Grant Mitchell Poli Sci Honours (took your politics and the city class) says:

    I wrote a paper last semester for Professor Huelsemeyer called “Fringe is the New Black” on the rise of both left and right extremism in the context of a low growth economy – referring to Picketty and others. I share your affection of our Southern neighbours and wish them the best. Our friend de Toqueville’s prescience over the fragility of the American democratic experiment is chilling.

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