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  • Pharmacare consensus principles released today September 24, 2018
    A diverse coalition representing health care providers, non-profit organizations, workers, seniors, patients and academics has come together to issue a statement of consensus principles for the establishment of National Pharmacare in Canada. Our coalition believes that National Pharmacare should be a seamless extension of the existing universal health care system in Canada, which covers medically […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice September 19, 2018
    The CCPA is pleased to announce the creation of the Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice.This Fellowship is created to honour the legacy of senior researcher Kate McInturff who passed away in July 2018. Kate was a feminist trailblazer in public policy and gender-based research and achieved national acclaim for researching, writing, and producing CCPA’s […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • The buck-a-beer challenge Ontario deserves September 6, 2018
    Ricardo Tranjan proposes an alternate plan to Doug Ford's buck-a-beer challenge in the Toronto Star.
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Growing number of professionals face job insecurity, study finds September 6, 2018
    The Toronto Star's Sara Mojtehedzadeh discusses the findings of the CCPA Ontario's report, No Safe Harbour and gathers firsthand accounts from precariously employed professionals who live and work in Ontario.
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Our Schools/Our Selves: The view from West Virginia September 4, 2018
    Our latests publication, Lesson Here, digs in to the West Viriginia teachers' strike.  Read the firsthand accounts of the work stoppage here.
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The New Language of Resource Exploitation: From Staples Dependency to Extraction Empire

“Staples dependency” we know from Innis onwards.  It can mean reliant upon, dependent on, the export of staples, and permits of a staple theory of linkages as economic theory. It can also mean a resource margin of a more developed imperium. Economic theory is infused by the power relations inherent in “dependency” and is transformed into political economy. In the shifting fashions of scholarship, over time “dependency” came not to be permitted as appropriate political economy. This in turn meant the purging of “nationalism” as a tolerable response at the risk of losing a political edge.  But the idea of a “staples trap” implicit in Innis could not be wished away.

Take the phrase “extraction empire.” “Empire” takes on a new meaning. On the one hand, it is the terrible colonization within Canada of indigenous people. Canada as a settler society is exploiter rather than exploited. On the other hand, it is the transformation of resource exploitation at home into resource exploitation abroad. Comparative advantage in trade becomes  over time comparative advantage in outward direct investment, notably in mining. Canada becomes an imperium in its own right, though note this by no means requires it to shed its “dependency” within a larger imperium, such as the United States.

“Extraction” is a potent word that conjures up the wrenching, the wounding of the planet, the violation of nature as technology deeply alters environment.  It gives a whole new perception to the staples trap which, in the contemporary case of bitumen, becomes a deadly carbon trap. Governments, national and regional, are sucked into a black hole.

Our old friend Dependency takes on a stark new dimension.  Economics alone exposes economic rents, or surplus, which can be captured by the state and in what would seem like the best of all worlds, can be used to help the poor, creating safety nets and building a welfare state. But the society then becomes massively dependent on the surplus from the revenue resulting from resource exploitation, and dangerously exposed to social breakdown in the event of a plunge in the price of the staple – as we are presently seeing with respect to oil and Venezuela.

What triggers these ruminations on staples one more time is the appearance of a monumental 800 page book, titled Extraction Empire, published by MIT Press and edited by Pierre Belanger, a landscape architect at Harvard. Full disclosure: the opening essay in the book titled “Unsettling the Mining Frontier” is mine, billed as a Foreward. It takes off from Innis’s neglected classic Settlement and the Mining Frontier but shows Innis’s limitations as a white male with respect to the consequences of staples exploitation for indigenous people, for women, and for the environment a.k.a nature.

Back to the book which has the revealing sub-title Undermining the Systems, States and Scales of Canada’s Global Resource Empire 2017 to 1217. Counting back 800 years to the Magna Carta which reified property, and distinguished between property rights to the surfaces of lands and subsurface rights. This was critical to the appropriation of rights of indigenous peoples in the so-called New World, who not only failed to make settled use of the surface resources  and certainly had no claim through use to sub-surface rights.

 

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