“A steady invisible hand”
Asked by the Globe what the “ballot question” should be for the upcoming election, Tasha Kheiriddin, Quebec Director of the Fraser Institute says:
“It should be all about green – money, that is. With the price of oil dropping, inflation creeping up and the auto sector in tough times, which party can provide the steadiest invisible hand for our economy?”
To conflate the steady hand on the rudder or wheel metaphor with Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand is just too hilarious (as is saying the price of oil is dropping and inflation is rising). Having received the memo from Steve, Conservative strategists are all on message with their question, some variation on who can best navigate us through tough economic times. Tasha, immersed in the free market fundamentalism of the Fraser Institute, clearly could not resist mixing her metaphors.
But it makes for an interesting point around the Conservative messaging because in tough economic times, their answer is “you are on your own.” While Adam Smith was much more nuanced, in conservative parlance the “invisible hand” is about letting capitalism do its thing with minimal interference by government (unless rich and powerful corporations think government action can increase their profits, that is; witness the Copyright Act Bill C-61). The Harperites do not believe in activist government that helps people, so I hope you saved your tax cut, cuz you might need it.
At the level of the federal budget, Harper’s response to a downturn will be to cut spending because tax revenues will fall from projected levels, and ideologically they would never run a deficit. The 2008/09 budget is already at the tipping point towards a deficit, and with the economic numbers getting worse, the Tories will soon be looking to shave a few billion from federal spending, this year and next, to maintain anything close to budget balance.
And cutting spending will only make the underlying economic problem worse by pulling money out of the broader economy at a time when it is needed. A steady hand would actually imply running a deficit, if we were to translate it into good economic policy. Harper’s policy would be the exact opposite: the turn the wheel more sharply into the direction of the rocks.
A full campaign is about to unfold. But while Canadians may vote for the steady hand, with Harper they are only going to get the finger.