Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

A Pragmatic Manifesto: Can Quebec's Social Democrats Make Markets Serve Equality?

Magazine article Literary Review of Canada

A Pragmatic Manifesto: Can Quebec's Social Democrats Make Markets Serve Equality?

Article excerpt

Pour une gauche efficace

Jean-Francois Lisee

Editions Boreal

280 pages, softcover

ISBN 9782764606407

January-February 2010

Can the left's project of democratic egalitarianism find new moorings in the age of global competitiveness? Despite the dark shadow recently cast on neoliberal governance schemes, there remains an air of doubt about the economic feasibility of leftist hopes and ideals.

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This should make political analyst Jean-Franqois Lisee's book Pour une gauche efficicace (For an Efficient Left) required reading for all the disheartened social democrats out there. As a special advisor to both Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard while they were premiers, Lisee is well positioned to appreciate the real challenges of statecraft. If this has led him to espouse certain neoliberal "imperatives," his determination and ingenuity have enabled him to develop a persuasive set of proposals on how to renew the classical left's project of social and democratic equality.

The main premise of Lisee's program--for this is, in fact, what the book offers us, a program--is that, with the onset of globalization, the capacity of a nation to prosper depends crucially on state reduction of the fiscal and regulatory burdens on industry. Without such a move, the domestic industrial sector is unlikely to be able to secure the capital investments needed to maintain a healthy economy. The scandal of the right, Lisee argues, is to have conceded these benefits to the economic elite without wrestling any tradeoffs from them for the good of everyday men and women. The "efficient" left response that Lisee proposes, on the other hand, which differs from the classical left by treating the market as its ally, seeks to obtain a whole series of compensatory concessions from the wealthy.

For the efficient left, just as the state must work tirelessly to assist local entrepreneurs (by which Lisee means not just capitalists but also leaders of the social economy, encompassing groups from non-governmental organizations to cooperatives and the public sector), it must also work tirelessly to guarantee workers' rights and protection of the environment. One does not exclude the other; with political will and creativity, Lisee emphasizes, both can be achieved together.

In Europe, traffic fines are commonly matched to personal income. A similar logic could apply to energy pricing.

His proposed program of reform is vast. It covers everything from public sector revitalization, greater unionization and lifelong retraining for workers to the introduction of carbon and consumption taxes. And while Lisee is in favour of reducing corporate taxation, one of his strategies to compensate for the associated loss of state revenues is taxing rich individuals instead. Right-wing commentators will be quick to suggest that any increase of income taxes on the rich will push them to flee, leaving us worse off than before. Lisee knows this, but argues that taxing incomes does not exhaust the state's fiscal options. More targeted measures can be used instead. To start with, there could be a reduction of contribution limits to registered retirement savings plans and tax-free savings accounts, as these are fiscal measures that run counter to the purpose of progressive taxation in the first place. While across-the-board increases in taxation would certainly lead to an outcry, closing the above loopholes is not likely to elicit the same response.

Lisee heads up an institute for international studies at the Universite de Montreal, and the scope of his research there results in some innovative and imaginative proposals. …

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