Sunday, January 20, 2008

The BUSINESS of Government

I used to think that the primary reason for a government was to ensure that the welfare of its citizenry is provided for. Left or Right, dictator or democracy, the idea was that the government would somehow try to look out for the best interest of its citizenry.

Relectantly I have come to the opinion that many of our recent governments have adopted a role more akin to creative marketing. An agenda is developed and a marketing campaign is launched. This shift in government has tracked the development of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. [Please do not be sidetracked by "liberalism" and "conservatism" which have roots in political science, not popular terminology.]

I've spoken on the radio a few times about this issue.

We are seeing this reality take place in New Brunswick. There's a fair amount of information and speculation that the marketing firm Hill and Knowlton may have been hired by interests in our province to market the energy hub concept. While I am sure that this company has a number of successes, a quick "Googling" of their name will show that some of these so-called "successes" have been in areas that people would call questionable.

Take a look at the "self-sufficiency" agenda. What does it mean? Has the government ever sat down, carefully defined the concept, and provided clear and measurable criteria by which we can judge success? Or, has the government used the term over-and-over, launching it into public usage so we can define the term for ourselves? Once we've defined the term as individuals, this government will enact policy in the name of self-sufficiency, and we'll blindly follow along.

Consider this hypothetical example: A company makes it known that studies show bouncy and shiny hair is associated with business and relationship success; bouncy hair makes your head lighter which allows it to be carried higher, thereby projecting a self-assured outlook on life. It has been shown that success will follow. The company then waits two months before announcing a new shampoo, Lustrous Life, that will give your hair that bounce and shine you need.

You see what I mean.

We need to be "self-sufficient" and to undergo "transformational change" because "the status quo is not an option." This is right out of marketing 101. Watch our governments and see how often they use these buzz phrases. I wanted to, and maybe still will, send these into CBC's SHIFT as jargon phrases I wish could be flushed down the toilet.

I was inspired to write this down because of what I read in a recent issue of Utne Reader. They note that Hill and Knowlton have been called upon to globally market the nuclear power industry (and who is on the line to refurbish a nuclear power plant and build possible one or two more?). Suddenly "studies show" that additional nuclear power is the only possible solution to climate change and global warming. Studies are great, but be careful when they have not been subjected to peer-review. (Frank Luntz and others tried to discredit the idea of climate change and global warming with "studies" showing it wasn't true, and newspapers kept citing the existence of such "studies", but within the peer-reviewed literature, the evidence for climate change was virtually unanimous - despite what Bush and Harper wanted to believe.) (Luntz has advised Harper's party.)

Well, this is more of a rant than an essay with a purpose. However, these thoughts have led me to make the following personal resolution:

It is no longer Project Eider Rock (which would be a nice place for ducks to nest), or the second oil refinery (which makes the project neutral), but rather "A Big Stinky Oil Refinery" which we can shorten to "The Big Stink."

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