A tale of Two Cities

This is part of a letter I wrote not long ago to someone in Calgary. It makes some points I think are wrth repeating about some socio-economic delusions popular these days.

Well, Calgarians, I saw your mayor at the Rotman center last month. That is the business school at U of T which sometimes has progressive pretensions and likes to invite interesting public figures to speak. I now understand why Naheed Nenshi was able to get elected and re-elected in ultraconservative Alberta. Listening to him, it is soon obvious that he is not as progressive as he seems to be. He is a likeable personality and a great communicator. But he still has most of the basic Alberta mentality.

knowledge of...?

He thinks there is such a thing as a "knowledge economy" and his city is one. All economies are knowledge economies. The Neandertal's economy was based on knowledge of how to make flint tipped spears and to use them to kill critters.

All knowledge is about how to make and use things. If nothing gets actually made and used in Calgary, then you have no real economy. You have a rentier based pseudo-economy, such as is always built on sand. The problem with Calgary is that it is an almost totally rentier economy.

Oil does not employ many people. But huge numbers of people feed off it without really doing much. They may do so directly through money from the oil companies, or indirectly through the tax evasion opportunities that a low tax due to high resource revenues can present. I mean, it is a haven for people who make their profits somewhere else but want to pay nothing back.

Worse, they are "new money" rentiers, who want to think the reason they got their money is because they are better than everybody else, who are all just in their way. We have a rentier economy in Toronto, too. But here it is more "old money", based on banking and mining, and they are more concerned with social stability; with holding on to what they have.

There is a real economy, a material economy, as well in Toronto. T.O. used to be a heavy industry town; amazingly, there are still slaughterhouses and breweries among residential areas. Now it is more small volume, specialty production. Admittedly, much of that is in luxury goods for the old money rentier class.

The financial capitalists, the ying-yangs who talk about this "knowledge economy", generally do not even see this type of production as economic activity. They cannot make money off it. They need "growth" and "revenue".

left and right

But that is the Knowledge Economy. Naheed's other dubious idea is that he does not know what left and right wing mean. I read this same line a lot on discussion forums about Basic Income.

In political psychology Right wing and Conservative mean; fear of uncertainty, desire for definite rules. Left wing and progressive mean; no fear of change, desire for expanded possibilities. Why is Calgary, Alberta, the home of individualism and entrepreneurship, so conservative?

There is no contradiction here. People tend to be much different from what they like to think they are. Most conservatives see themselves as in a war of all against all and want to either make themselves powerful or ingratiate themselves with the powerful.

The doctrine of free enterprise is the official ideology in Alberta, and everybody wants to fit into it. Those who do not fit into it are a threat. There is intense effort to eliminate them, which is why there is so little real opposition in Alberta and why I am no longer there.

housing first

Naheed's seemingly brilliant idea was his ten year plan to end homelessness. I think the crowd at business school had short memories. Maybe they weren't in Toronto when Mayor Miler had an almost identical plan. It failed calamitously.

The basic idea is called "housing first". That is, to get homeless people into shelter first, and then work on the reasons why they became homeless. Many cities have tried this; it worked well in some and very badly in others.

It did not work in Miller time in Toronto because there is such a shortage of affordable, meaning affordable by someone on welfare/disability, housing. Some housing in Toronto is so bad that people would rather be on the street.

But worst of all, the elitist jerkoffs around Miller could not get it that this approach does not work with people whose problems are such that they are a nuisance or outright danger to other residents. The Homes First people tried moving their clients into public housing ahead of the wait list, leading to the usual howling about queue jumping. I know what living down the hall from someone who is a homicide waiting to happen is all about, from my George street days.

The homes first strategy has fallen apart since Ford became mayor. There seem to be as many homeless people around as always. The new mayor, John Tory, has yet to indicate what he going to do about housing policy or the homeless problem.

When I was homeless in Calgary I had one simple reason for being so; the social services system of Alberta. They were doing everything possible to drive me out of the province. The Alberta ruling cretins keep trying to solve their social problems by driving problem cases elsewhere. They keep having to back off as other provinces holler about "welfare dumping".

So, I do not think we are hearing the whole story about Calgary's success in solving homelessness. I wanted to know how the hard cases are handled, the ones who cannot be "housed" in normal conditions, for the safety of themselves and others. But I got no chance to ask any questions; only a panel of business school suit types could.

The slick web pages of the Calgary government provide no real clues to this question, either.

So, that is you folk's mayor. But I bet John Tory could whup him.