Upmarket & down

According to the estimate of one of my correspondents, about one-third of the Alberta economy is gone, since the collapse of world crude oil prices began to engage with the regulatory destruction of the province’s fossil fuel industries. This is good news, to those who envied the province’s “excessive” wealth, and Calgary’s “corporate power.” (Per capita income in Alberta was until quite recently higher than that of any Canadian province or American state.) The decline is statistically masked, however, by the disappearance of imports (the “tar sands” required a lot of high-tech equipment) and the skid of the Canadian dollar: the trade balance has technically improved. Likewise, the unemployment rate may actually fall, as people give up seeking jobs entirely. It is only in reality that businesses are closing or radically downsizing; that the economic pilgrimage of labour to Alberta from Canada’s poorer provinces has turned the other way.

Decline is never distributed equally, and while the capitalists take so many hits, that it becomes possible to find “affordable housing” in Calgary, the government town of Edmonton is still visibly booming. This is where the new socialist government presides, in succession to the spendthrift “conservative” government held responsible for a downturn beyond its control. Albertans have long been known as decisive people. They decided that if they were going to commit suicide, they would do it properly.

In the same way, after years of economic stagnation across much of USA, Washington DC and its surrounding counties remain an island of remarkable prosperity. Nothing yet impedes their parasitical growth, and one may easily understand the horror with which a businessman like Trump is greeted when, as president-elect, he threatens to apply a form of chemotherapy to America’s metastasized bureaucracies. (In the recent election, Trump and Pence took 4.1 percent of the popular vote in DC: a minority of the 9.5 percent who did not vote for Hillary.)

There are no mysteries here. Wealth is generated by human work and investment, and the purpose of politics, like piracy, is to suck it dry.

I mentioned Alberta first, however, for the USA economy remains the world’s most formidable, and therefore complex, even in decline. Alberta’s resource-based industries make it simpler to understand. Before oil and gas there was beef and wheat, and before that, furs. The population is diffuse, and the conditions for the development of manufacturing and services — traditionally dense population, and thus a massive labour pool — only recently emerged, and only in the small corridor of the province that bridges its two dominant cities. (Warmer Texas, by comparison, has acquired far more population.) Live by the sword, die by the sword, has ever been the destiny of the resource-based, and the “blue-eyed sheikhs” are now suffering the fate of Arabia. For like Saudi, Alberta became a vastly inflated welfare state, which with the collapse of the oil price can be quickly deflated.

Every government’s first spending priority is itself. This becomes painfully evident as the revenue stream dries: the consumption of a nation’s lifeblood becomes more centralized. Paradoxically, what is bad for Alberta is, for a time, good for Edmonton; as what is bad for America is good for DC. As the body decays, the parasites flourish, though not indefinitely. Eventually there is no more lifeblood to be sucked, and we have an economic corpse like Venezuela. With that comes the last stage of societal disintegration, and violence in the throes.

Now, our times are more interesting (in the classical Chinese sense) for the technological developments I’ve touched on (here, for instance). Human labour is becoming outmoded. It is a problem that cannot be ignored — a consumer society must retain some money-earning consumers — yet can only be aggravated by government intervention. Human creativity might conceivably rise to the occasion, but inanition can be the only response to the palliative drug of welfare.

To this survivalist end, I think, the bloodsucking must stop. It precludes the very possibility of recovery.