Monday, September 13, 2010

'Canada has produced a better society'

from "Balancing Act: The state, the markets, the future," by David Crane, in the Literary Review of Canada:

In some important respects... Canada has produced a better society than either of those centres of free market capitalism, the United States and Great Britain. We have a better rate of social mobility -- the ability of people to move out of poverty... We have a fairer society in that income inequality is not as great. And we have longer life expectancy, which is probably the best marker of a country's overall performance. In addition, Canadian schoolchildren perform better than their American counterparts.

Americans have a higher per capita gross domestic product, but that tells us nothing about how its wealth is distributed. To be sure, the Scandinavian countries, and especially Sweden, do better than we do. We do pay more taxes than Americans, but we also get value. Knowing that all Canadians have access to public health care and other social measures is better than building a society of gated communities. More importantly, a strong social framework will make it easier to deal with the huge changes we face in the years ahead. It represents a form of social solidarity that underlines community at a time when the US and Great Britain in particular have embraced an excessive individualism. We are not immune to that same pressure and conservatives would move us much further in that direction.

Canada has evolved with a different capitalism from the United States for a number of reasons. One may be that the origins of our political institutions are different. Parliamentary government evolved from the Crown, whose mandate was to act on behalf of the people. The American congressional system was founded on the fear of government, so, through intricate checks and balances, it was more difficult for government to act. Canada has been engaged in a nation-building exercise from its inception -- a nation of vast distances and a thinly spread population... This has meant a different role for government, one where government was much more engaged in economic development...

The notion of sharing was an important part of Canadian development, given our small population. That has helped Canada remain a united country despite its vast space and distances and the temptation of the United States, and despite linguistic differences and the more recent mix of cultures. All of this has shaped our own form of capitalism, and our own ideas on the role of the state. Although the differences should not be exaggerated, there is a Canadian approach that, I would argue, has served us well.
Image source here.