The Return of the State: Protestors, Power-Brokers and the New Global Compromise
Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of
Adam Harmes’s message is one that we cannot hear too often:
laissez-faire is not a panacea, and there really is a role for
The downsizing of government has had negative, even catastrophic
results, Harmes argues. The horrors of 9/11 were possible in large
measure because the U.S. government, unlike its European counterparts,
would not assume responsibility for security at airports. Security
depended on commercial airlines, which—in order to keep costs to a
minimum—granted franchises to the lowest bidders, who in turn paid
minimum wages, provided minimal training, and quickly lost their
employees to better jobs. Walkerton’s E. coli-contaminated-water
tragedy of 2000 was a direct result of government downsizing.
Deregulation of the electrical industry was great for Enron’s profits
but not for the reliability of California’s electrical supply. Many
industries put corporate profits, which they can pass along to the
shareholders, ahead of employee or public interest. Even when making
record profits, they lay off employees and rely on part-timers or
temporary workers. Unregulated, they would pollute rather than invest in
There are many explanations. Politicians such as Margaret Thatcher,
Ronald Reagan, and Brian Mulroney promoted the corporate agenda. As
successive Republican governments in the United States increased
military spending and reduced taxes, they managed to blame social
programs and left-wing politicians for the resulting debts.
Intellectuals such as Milton Friedman promoted the cause of
laissez-faire, and servants of the corporations promoted their interests
at higher levels. George Bush Sr. successfully torpedoed the Rio
Conference on the environment, and the wife of Republican Senator Phil
Gramm proved an effective lobbyist for Enron. Multinational corporations
such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and international bodies such as NAFTA
and the World Trade Organization, limit what elected politicians can do.
The Canadian government had to pay compensation to one U.S.
multinational because of an anti-pollution law that violated Chapter XI
of NAFTA. Even billionaires with a conscience, including George Soros
and Bill Gates, agree that there is a role for government.
An index would have made the book even more useful.