Has the Fever Broken?

by Michael McGinnis

As we look around the world, many seemingly intractable problem situations have dissolved or made dramatic progress in the past decade. From the collapse of communism in the late 80's, to the work toward establishing a multi-racial government in South Africa, to the surprising cooperation between Israel and the PLO: all of these point towards an overturning of rigid beliefs and expectations that were often decades old.

In all of these cases the consciousness of people in the problem areas had been frozen for years, trapped in attitudes of mistrust, or greed, or hate. In each case, the pressure built up for a change, until change suddenly burst on the scene. As we have seen in the case of communist Europe, the rupturing of communist governments almost a peaceful self-implosion happened with extraordinary rapidity. Any time an unbalanced pressure builds up, the potential exists for a rapid, if not tumultuous, rebalancing. This principle may only be of academic interest in a physics lab, but in social or economic trends this principle may herald much turmoil and unrest.

Since the rapid expansion of the economy in Canada after the Second World War, the Canadian population has come to expect a generally increasing standard of living, and to regard the economic gains of their parents and grandparents as their inalienable and inextinguishable birthright. Politicians and interest groups encouraged government to find new ways to bring benefits from government to serve various sectors of the public. At the same time, the government's revenue had not increased at the same rate to be able to pay for the greatly increased public spending. As with the seemingly unsolvable problems of other countries mentioned above, the pressure between the continuing, increasing demands on government, and government's diminishing means, is building towards a climax.

In these other problem situations a certain stage was reached by most people -- they were tired and frustrated, and felt that a changed future held more hope than the failed ideas such as communism or apartheid of the past. In Canada the failed idea that we must come to terms with is the notion that government can provide for its citizens wants and needs, even if the people don't pay enough to government in taxes to provide for the services they demand.

The tearing down of the Berlin Wall symbolised the spreading and growth of consciousness of people who had lived for decades under communism. The peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe were similar to the breaking of a fever, allowing worn out, destructive ideas to be replaced with a vision of life with greater freedom, spirit and choice.

Many Canadians are also tired and frustrated. They see the debt we have accumulated as a gruesome legacy which may hobble their enjoyment of retirement and will certainly burden their children. The sentiment of the population is moving in the direction of requiring governments to spend no more than they collect. When this principle finally moves from theory to practice, our national fever will have broken. Lying beyond that point will be a lot of pain as most people adjust to a life of reduced material expectations.

However, we will still not be poor. We will still drive cars (maybe older cars) and go on vacations (perhaps closer to home). The government's insolvency does not mean that Canada will become as poor as Turkey, much less as destitute as India. But there will be a general reduction in the standard of living, and that is something that people will have to accept and get used to. Until that happens, our national fever will not yet have broken, and we will be pushing back the day of the start of our eventual recovery.

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