Crafting strategies that are attuned to the needs and attitudes of the citizens of the province is a key component of a successful strategy for New Brunswick to advance its economies.
Citizens understand justice and values. Most people have ideas about what is right and wrong (justice) and what makes life good and bad (values). New Brunswickers want to see their values better reflected in economic decisions. Should the economy be removed from the realm of justice? Very human concerns animate our communities: caring for children, enjoying friendships, sharing nature, and participating in sports and cultural activities. The values reflected in the everyday preoccupations must be included in assessing what needs be done about the economy.
People expect governments to invest in the future. They see using our collective wealth and power to serve the community, not the other way around.
There is no point in talking about recovery so long as unemployment is high, people have trouble finding good jobs, and businesses have excess capacity. The worst scenario is one where the government prematurely decides the recession is over and cuts back on spending. This could produce depression-like circumstances. The main barriers to putting the economic crisis behind us are political. The democratic principle is to have government act in the public interest.
Turbulent economic times are exactly when we need greater public investment in public services and infrastructure projects. These public investments can make a huge difference. Public services make life more affordable for families who in tough times need to count on these vital services even more. The public sector is also a direct source of good-paying jobs that support families and keep our communities strong. The money that public employees earn has positive spin-offs for the overall economy because it gets spent at local business in local communities.
In a time of crisis, watching public policy move quickly to help out businesses and the well-off, while leaving the rest largely to fend for ourselves, has made it clear that the dominant vision of the way of the world is supposed to work has failed. As a result, our duties and obligations to ourselves and to others need to be rethought.
If we add up self-interest, we do not get the common good. The idea that each person works to maximize their personal gains from society, all will be better off as a result, has not worked out. Some people have done very well, for sure, but overall New Brunswickers have been looking at growing inequities, not just on the income side, but of opportunity, security and happiness.
While there is no simple magical formula to balance strategic priorities, why not put people first?
To put together the elements needed to assure a new economic departure in this province we must recognize that the economic crisis centered on private money and banking practices than they need to be scrutinized much more carefully.
Spending and taxation policies that work for people mean making fairness the criteria. Taxes need to take account of ability to pay. People who make more money should pay more tax. For this to happen, income taxes need to be more progressive.
Economies slump before spending falls. The only sources of new spending are families and individuals, businesses, or governments.. When consumers, businesses are cutting back, government must not follow suit. That is how to turn a recession into a depression.
Reducing spending is necessary if inflation is the problem. But we have deflation. It is not the time to yell fire in the hall: Government should balance the budget over the course of time, not panic because a downturn raises expenditures and reduces revenues.
Tom Mann is the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Union and a Coordinator for Democracy in New Brunswick.