In case you missed it: public employees caused the fall of Rome!

Canada in a state of collapse due to the influence of public employees. Canadian state institutions may not be exactly as illustrated by sundry right-wing “think-tanks” and publicly paid political “scientists.” Below: Fall-of-Rome experts Barry Cooper and Edward Gibbon.

Political scientist Barry Cooper, another of the academics employed by the so-called Calgary School of the U of C, has written an article for the Calgary Herald lambasting public employees for everything from Canada’s economic woes to the fall of Rome.

Dr. Cooper bases his fanciful screed on a report by something called the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, which he refers to as “a feisty Winnipeg think-tank.”

When not insulting public employees with allegations of “laziness,” “extortion” and an apparently powerful and sneaky thirst for taxpayer-subsidized alcohol, the publicly employed University of Calgary teacher rightly points out that the Frontier Centre’s attack on public sector wage increases has been widely reported in the mainstream media.

Now, people, the fall of Rome has been ascribed to plenty of causes, not least among them the pernicious effects of Christianity, too much lead in the water, ill-mannered immigrants from Gaul, too many Germans in the army, inflation caused by unfaithfulness to the gold standard, lousy agricultural policies, not enough taxation, environmental degradation, an economy based on slavery and a general lack of civic virtue. Oh, and did I mention corrupt emperors?

So, throw in Dr. Cooper’s “parasitic bureaucracy” and we’ve pretty well covered the Tiber-front. Pick your poison and blame your favourite villain.

We should take Dr. Cooper’s main point cum grano salis, of course. It’s unlikely that he really thinks lazy bureaucrats were behind the fall of Rome. Probably, Dr. Cooper is just making an entertaining little feint at the public sector – which is the primary purpose of the Calgary School, after all – in the reasonable expectation that we Proletarians will believe whatever he says, seeing as he’s smart enough to quote the great Edward Gibbon.

In fact, the English historian and Member of Parliament, who died in 1794, principally blamed Christianity for Rome’s troubles. But, presumably, that’s not a message that would be welcome in the pages of the Calgary Herald – even from its old friend Dr. Cooper. Likewise, it’s hard to say how his fellow Calgary Schoolmates Stephen Harper, Ted Morton and Tom Flanagan might react to that one!

While one suspects he actually knows better, however, Dr. Cooper could be forgiven for imagining based on its press clippings that the Frontier Centre is, as the Herald put it in an editorial, “an independent think-tank,” and that its research is therefore sound.

But one need look no further than the Frontier Centre’s website to glimpse the reality behind its claim to be independent.

First off, it espouses all the usual far-right nostrums: shots at the science behind global warming, paeans to liquor store privatization in Alberta, calls for “choice” in education, attacks on low-cost government car insurance and sly advocacy of privatized health care. You get the picture.

As for who funds this “independent” group, well, it’s not the government, as the Frontier Centre is quick to point out, but principally “foundations,” according to the centre’s website.

Accordingly, I dropped a line to Frontier’s president and asked, Which foundations? To his credit, Peter Holle responded: “Donner Foundation Toronto. Aurea Foundation Toronto. Hecht Foundation Vancouver. There are others who prefer to remain private.”

Of the Donner Foundation, the British Columbia Teachers Federation wrote: “It is known as paymaster to the right, and it’s safe to say that the reactionary right would have made little headway in Canada in the past decade without Donner’s backing. Stephen Harper would be a nobody, for instance. … Donner, with assets of $200 million, gives out two million a year to right-wing causes.”

The Donner Foundation also funds the notorious Fraser Institute, but it is now pouring funds into new “think-tanks” like the Frontier Centre since, thanks to independent commentators in the blogosphere and no thanks to the mainstream media, the Fraser Institute’s utter lack of credibility is finally sinking through to the public.

Indeed, like so many in the right-wing think-tank-academia-foundation-government-media nexus, Dr. Cooper was once “senior fellow” with the Fraser Institute.

Less information is available on the Aurea Foundation, founded by Barrick Gold chairman Peter Munk, and the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, which appears to be another Fraser Institute funder.

Regardless, we can see from this simple check – which apparently no professional journalist bothered to make – that the Frontier Centre, feisty though it may be, is neither independent nor unbiased.

Naturally, its conclusions in this matter are subject to dispute. Its methodology fails to account for the number of hours worked in the sectors of the economy it looks at, and since public employees work more hours, between the lines its conclusions don’t mean they’re paid more per hour. It also conveniently ignores that in the previous decade public sector salaries lagged behind the private sector.

But never mind that technical stuff. What underlies the whole output of such professional bloviators is the North American far-right’s continuing attack on the middle class and the only remaining institution that offers the poor and working poor a hand up into the middle class – unions.

God knows where it will lead if the right actually succeeds with its program of wiping out the middle class.

Perhaps if it does, with a tip of the Phrygian cap to Dr. Cooper, it is possible that future historians will ascribe the fall of the West to the pernicious influence of publicly paid market-fundamentalist academics, “think-tanks” supported by under-taxed billionaires and groups like the “Calgary School” set up at public expense to foster the cult-like worship of the market.

There’ll be more evidence for that than for Dr. Cooper’s attack on public servants.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

One Comment on "In case you missed it: public employees caused the fall of Rome!"

  1. Sixth Estate says:

    Interesting. In theory, all foundation donations to charities are a matter of public record. They're really not "anonymous."

    At least one of the other foundations is the Pirie Foundation. Unfortunately Revenue Canada lets you look up foundations and check who they donate money to, but I'm not sure there's a tool that lets you go the other way around.

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