Gail Regan is vice-chair of Cara Operations, retired.  She chairs Energy Probe Research Foundation and is a member of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise.  She has a PhD in Educational Theory and an M.B.A. in Finance.  Her background in sociology and personal experience of business has given her an intellectual interest in the problem of evil.  






Understanding Fractious Politics

Chapter Five




From a Canadian perspective, the politics of our rich American cousins are fractious.  Why?  The following thought experiment provides an explanation.


Imagine two democratically governed, small, tropical island nations.  Both depend on fish, chicken and vegetables for domestic consumption and coconuts for export.  However, the soil on one island is so special that its coconuts are extremely valuable inputs to pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, yielding an annual income per capita of $10,000.  The ordinary coconuts on the other island yield a poverty income of $600.


Now suppose expatriates from the poor island make their fortune and return to their homeland.  The place becomes trendy, so that over time its annual income catches up.


There is a theory in sociology that a nation’s economy and institutions align over time.  So we can anticipate that “special coconut” will emphasize soil conservation, population control and readiness for international trade.  “Catch-up” will give priority to population growth, adventure and hospitality, especially for its diaspora.  Sociologists would expect special coconut to value collective restraint, and catch-up to dream of travel, luxury and collective pleasure.


What if the theory is not true in practice?  Suppose special coconut’s institutions develop a contrary ethos of travel, amusement, lots of babies and adventure, even though boring, careful coconut production and lack of population pressure are essential to its economy.  Imagine the tensions!   Fun-oriented special coconutters would chronically conflict with the authorities responsible for cultivation.  Prosperity would be at risk.


What if catch-up embraces traditional land use, sexual responsibility and bureaucracy, values unfriendly to development and trendiness?  Cautious catch-uppers, unable to agree on where to put the airport, let alone the casino, the marina and the race track, would obstruct investors wanting to remake their homeland.  They would have a conflicted society, but, if the returnees manage to insert themselves, a prosperous one.


Canada has the technological sophistication to create world-class brands, but it does not have the economic clout to sustain them in the global economy.  The U.S. does.  So while both nations have value-added (special coconut) economies, the U.S. also relies on the creativity and financial clout of its corporate diaspora.


Both Canada and the U.S. could use fiscal restraint, modest lifestyles, sound banking and conservation to support their value-added economies.  But the U.S. also has a diaspora economy aligned with a culture of generous executive pay, social inequality, light regulation and risky investment.  The U.S. economy is complex. 


With Canada’s simpler economy, Canadians can tell a simple story and live in consensual calm.  Single-track values in the U.S. create tension not only because they disagree with alternate values, but because they deny the reality of one of the economies and its aligned institutions.  The U.S. is a special coconut society AND a catch-up society.  It needs a nuanced story and is fractious without one.  





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