Wednesday Night #1296 – Omar Aktouf & Kimon Valskakis

Written by  //  April 13, 2005  //  Geopolitics, Herb Bercovitz, Politics, Public Policy, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1296 – Omar Aktouf & Kimon Valskakis

April 13, 2005

Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It can, however, be transformed.Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can, however, be transformed.The transformation of matter is accompanied by either the release or absorption of energy.The sun, still the ultimate source of potential energy, though of finite lifespan, is not a source of concern.
The transformation of fossil fuel into kinetic energy (transportation of goods and humans) as well as the manufacture of goods and consumption, heating and cooling) is responsible for the consumption (really transformation) of 200,000 to 400,000 calories per North American per day.
The greenhouse gases produced reduce our access to the sun’s radiant energy.

The Kyoto Protocol
Do we need to implement the Kyoto Protocol? Of course we do. Will it help? Probably very little. At best, it gives us a breathing space of ten years or less and with the non-participation of countries such as the U.S., the acquisition of credits and non-compliance, most likely, much less. Many solutions have been recommended, such as increasing the iron content of the oceans, but a single global solution to a problem as complex as this is unrealistic. Hypotheses must be proposed, tested and if valid, built upon. This must be done before time runs out.

People around the globe are more connected to each other than ever before. Information and money flow more quickly than ever. Goods and services produced in one part of the world are increasingly available in all parts of the world. International travel is more frequent. International communication is commonplace. This phenomenon has been titled ‘globalization’.
“The Era of Globalization” is fast becoming the preferred term for describing the current times. Just as the Depression, the Cold War Era, the Space Age, and the Roaring 20’s are used to describe particular periods of history; globalization describes the political, economic, and cultural atmosphere of today.
While some people think of globalization as primarily a synonym for global business, it is much more than that. The same forces that allow businesses to operate as if national borders did not exist also allow social activists, labor organizers, journalists, academics, and many others to work on a global stage.
The North American business model sees the exportation of North American values to the rest of the world, not always for the most noble of reasons, alas. If this initiative should continue to be successful, it could ultimately spell the end of our civilization. The energy stored in natural resources would quite rapidly be dissipated (transformed, if you will). This has begun to happen with the rapid adoption of western values in China causing scarcity of resource material.
This argument is countered by those who claim that information technology actually conserves energy; still others maintain that the focus must be on education of people in developing countries (noting that much can be accomplished without the intervention of information technology), which will benefit us as well as them. Others believe that much of the problem is the result of supranational companies that can operate in any jurisdiction.
Dr. Aktouf[i] argues that the world economy should satisfy the needs of all. If we agree on that, then we must admit that today’s global economy is a total failure. We need only look at the ill-administered multinationals (the Enrons, Vivendis, Worldcoms – and our very own Nortel -) and the theories of management that they espouse that are based entirely on profits – or should we say greed? Management that looks only at profits is doomed to failure. Such a system is counter-productive and infinite wealth accumulation is simply irresponsible. “Tout cet argent qui ne circule plus, ce sont des sous dont des gens ne disposent plus pour consommer, donc des produits ou des services que d’autres ne peuvent plus fabriquer ou offrir, et ainsi de suite.”
He takes issue with the neo-liberal thinking that maintains that the opening of new markets and borders will in no way penalize the producers of the third world, who are suddenly faced with competition from the industrial and transnational agro-industrial giants who can at a moment’s notice dump products or produce and kill local markets.
Although this Wednesday Night might have been expected to produce more disagreement than agreement among the participants, such was not the case. In general, most, if not all, subscribe to the views expressed by author and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman:
“Globalization is not a phenomenon. It is not just some passing trend. Today it is an overarching international system shaping the domestic politics and foreign relations of virtually every country, and we need to understand it as such. As thoughtful people concerned about world affairs, our job is to pick up ‘globalization’, examine it from all sides, dissect it, figure out what makes it tick, and then nurture and promote the good parts and mitigate or slow down the bad parts. Globalization has dangers and an ugly dark side. But it can also bring tremendous opportunities and benefits. Just as capitalism requires a network of governing systems to keep it from devouring societies, globalization requires vigilance and the rule of law.”
Thus the proposal by those supporting world governance that a global government balance the need and desire of the inhabitants of developing countries with the nature of support offered them, some technology, yes; educational and medical facilities, certainly; as well as greater freedom from starvation, exploitation and war.
This debate will no doubt continue, stimulated by the eloquent opinions of this evening’s participants, and others who will gladly raise their voices on other evenings.

Election call?
The Gomery enquiry is drawing to a close, leading to predictions of an election to be called during the second week in May followed by the vote in mid-June, despite the public’s obvious dislike of the idea. A surprise surplus of eight billion dollars is expected to be discovered, perhaps sufficient to create national amnesia related to the current scandals, but most likely not. This scenario foresees a minority conservative government. Our next Prime Minister will be Mr. Stephen Harper.

[Editor’s note: Over the past thirty years, Canadians have become used to never-ending majority governments. It is useful to remember that not only was this not always the case, but in fact Canada had six elections in the 11 years starting with the 1957 election when the Liberals had been in power for 22 years. Diefenbaker won a minority and nine months later was defeated, and went again to the polls. He won a stunning 208 of 265 seats. That majority evaporated into a 1962 minority and less than a year later, Pearson was in with his own minority. Pearson had consecutive minorities – falling only two seats short of a majority in 1965. It was only in 1968 that Pierre Trudeau finally broke the minority string with a 1968 majority. The subsequent 36 years produced only three minorities. With thanks to Canadian Press]

Scandals such as the current one are neither unique nor confined to Canada. Certainly, Britain and France have had their share, the United Nations is currently coping with the far more serious (in that it contributed to deprivation for many Iraqi citizens) oil-for-food scandal. And the perhaps most repulsive one (because of the cloak of the religious right) is the current Tom Delay brouhaha in the U.S. The creativity that goes into schemes favouring backsheesh speaks highly of human ingenuity. It is the most convenient way, under the present system, to fund political campaigns.

[Editor’s note: in our unending quest for knowledge, we decided to seek a definition of baksheesh on the Internet. We were redirected to “bribery”; thence to “smoothing bureaucracy” and this informative paragraph from the Wikipedia site: A grey area may exist when payments to smooth transactions are made. United States law is particularly strict in limiting the ability of businesses to pay for the awarding of contracts by foreign governments; however, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act contains an exception for “grease payments”; very basically, this allows payments to officials in order to obtain the performance of ministerial acts which they are legally required to do, but may delay in the absence of such payment. In some countries, this practice is the norm, often resulting from a developing nation not having the tax structure to pay civil servants an adequate salary. Nevertheless, most economists regard bribery as a bad thing because it encourages rent-seeking behaviour. A state where bribery has become a way of life is a kleptocracy ‘Smoothing bureaucracy’ has a dignified tone but, alas, ‘grease payments’ sounds more appropriate.]

It would make far more sense for the government itself to fund the campaign of all candidates on an equitable basis to the exclusion of all other funding, but as the current system favours the party in power, it is highly unlikely that those elected under this system would favour changing it, even if doing so would bring forward more candidates favouring the betterment of their fellow citizens as well as having a favourable effect on the number of Canadians voting.

Will Ontario take over Québec’s derivatives exchange?
We in Québec hold many of our own institutions as sacrosanct, one case in point being the Montreal Stock Exchange. In 1998, a ten-year agreement with the T.S.X was signed respecting areas of specialization in the two exchanges, as the Canadian market is not big enough to support two competing exchanges. With four years to go, there is much speculation on what will happen at the end of the agreement and any possible fallout therefrom.

The new Québec orphans
Half a century ago, orphanages dotted the Québec landscape. More liberal attitudes towards teen-age pregnancies, foster care, interracial marriages and adoptions have resulted in the closure of orphanages. In their place there has sprung up an older generation of Medicare orphans, people who cannot get the health care that is their legal right because of the lack of professionals and the management philosophy of the government. Failure by the government to recognize and take responsibility for the increased need for and cost of medical care due solely to the aging of the population, as well as for normal population growth, has contributed to the problem. These are today’s Medicare orphans who must at one point recognize the power that comes from their number, to elect and change governments, making Québec a healthier place in which to live. The discussion prompted one of Wednesday Night’s medical advisors to suggest: “I was thinking of a website for orphan patients for Québec citizens. It would be similar to one from Ontario, but we would have a lottery every week allowing the winner to enter the practice of a doctor of his or her choosing. This would encourage people to sign up on a list and also embarrass the government into acting.”


– The Canadian dollar could fall to below eighty cents U.S.
– The T.S.X. will continue to decline
– G.D.P. should grow by 2½% to 3%
-A declining number of Canadians will vote in the next election


Complex problems never get solved by simple solutions … You make a small change and you can get massive problems. What you need is multiple pilot projects to measure results
My reading is that energy has been replaced by information. The information economy is flexible and can be shared. Amount of energy consumed by computers is small compared with value of the information
I have worked in Zimbabwe. Good management and good government can make a difference. That country pre-Mugabe was a paradise
Education is very important, but it is not a resource. It is an understanding of a resource, the information about chickens, versus the chicken that we eat
The nature of wealth has changed (information versus value added)
To feed everyone today is a geopolitical, not a production problem
Good government, yes, but how? World growth cannot continue indefinitely and for the whole world
Globalization takes power away from government

[i] We are told that Dr. Aktouf believes that the discipline of economics has deteriorated in the years since 2001, when like-minded economist Joseph E. Stiglitz won the Nobel Prize. Professor Stiglitz recently gave a lecture titled “Globalization and Public Policy” at Hamilton College in New York State on April 8. His lecture addressed the ways in which globalization and public policy have interacted in recent years, as well as the continuing debate over who benefits from globalization. He began by discussing the riots at the December 1999 round of trade talks in Seattle, noting that before this event, public attention was not as focused on the issue of globalization and its potential drawbacks. In fact, he said, the dissent surprised proponents of globalization who believed that the process was making everyone better off around the world. The controversy generated at the Seattle round increased public and media interest in investigating what globalization was actually doing. It then became clear why the protesters had concerns about the trade talks — globalization had certainly made some richer, but statistics show that the poorest countries have gotten poorer, in his opinion because of the asymmetrical nature of the trade agreements that have grown out of globalization.He cited the current trade agreements in agriculture as a prime example of this asymmetry. “The US maintains agriculture subsidies greater exceeding the total income of sub-Saharan Africa. How can they compete?” Subsidies such as the $3-5 billion given to US cotton farmers lower the global price of cotton and hurt 10 million sub-Saharan cotton growers. The asymmetry also occurs in the trade of manufactured goods, with escalating tariffs on industrial products targeting the poorest countries.The rule of law is beginning to make its force felt in international trade and globalization now, Stiglitz concluded. At least today, he said, the powerful are now being held accountable for the effects their economic behaviors have on others and 2-3 billion new people are being integrated more equitably into the global economy.– by Caroline O’Shea ’07

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