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Peter Foster: Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backwards

Peter Foster, Financial Post

The “Leap Manifesto” issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome – led by Naomi Klein and David Suzuki – is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?

Does becoming rich as an entertainer or novelist under the capitalist system automatically make you blind to the wealth generated by that system – in particular your own – and lead you to take every opportunity to chomp on the Invisible Hand? Or does celebrity make you so desperate to be part of the in crowd that you just sign on any dotted line for a “Good Cause” that appears in front of you?

The manifesto’s launch was a peripheral event at the Toronto International Film Festival, which one would hope might be embarrassed at being so flagrantly drawn into the federal election. Klein has a film at the festival, based on her tedious book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, whose thinking, or lack thereof, permeates the manifesto.

The manifesto’s main points were also promoted in a piece in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday by Klein, Suzuki, and three other well known policy experts, Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland and Ellen Page. Other supporters span all the way from Neil Young through Yann Martel to John Ralston Saul and an assortment of government unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees. In other words, the ideological span did not swing very far.

The manifesto’s “initiating organizations” include, the U.S. billionaire-backed organization started by Bill McKibben, and other radical anti-development groups such as Greenpeace and ForestEthics.

You’d think that somebody among the Deep Thinkers might have reflected that “leaping” doesn’t have the best of historical connotations. Specifically, it conjures up Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a lurch to socialized modernization that led to tens of millions of deaths.

Meanwhile isn’t there that old saying about looking before you leap? Still, eco-alarmists perpetually claim that we should act first and think later. No time to waste. That has been their theme for more than a quarter century, during which global economies and human welfare have as stubbornly risen as the global temperature has stubbornly refused to follow them.

The majority of the manifesto is taken up with peddling the fantasy of a total switch to alternative energy within a couple of decades, and demanding an end to fossil fuel activity. “Energy democracy” would involve a great leap backwards to a world of communes and co-ops engaged in endless and earnest debate. “We call,” note the Gang of Five, “for town hall meetings across the country where residents can gather to democratically define what a genuine leap to the next economy means in their communities.”

Of course there will no discussion about whether the leap is wise, necessary, or into the abyss. That decision has already been taken by the green vanguard. Not that the communes won’t be connected or mobile. They will, via “High speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transit.” These will be “in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.” Funny that that list doesn’t include air travel, but that’s probably out of consideration for all the flights involved travelling to meetings to save the world. And to film festivals.

Chairman Mao’s Great Leap in fact does crop up in a plan to collectivize and localize agriculture. This primitive emphasis on the local, which would inevitably be impoverishing, would be cemented by “an end to all trade deals.”

Where would new jobs originate? Expanding “Low-carbon” sectors such as “caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public interest media.” And where would the money to fund the leap originate? Easy. Soak corporations and the rich. End (non-existent) fossil fuel subsidies. Slap on transaction taxes (thus punishing and reducing transactions). Raise resource royalties. Impose carbon taxes.

Apart from incorporating Marxist dreams of the withering away of the state, the manifesto contains echoes of more recent left-liberal gobbledygook in the claim that “Public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis.” Such Galbraithian posturing was comprehensively refuted by one of Klein’s demons, Milton Friedman, who pointed out that the problem usually isn’t a shortage of public spending, it is that public funds tend so often to be grossly misspent, a trend which has arguably been somewhat reduced under the Harper government.

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