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  • Study highlights ‘uncomfortable truth’ about racism in the job market December 12, 2018
    "Racialized workers in Ontario are significantly more likely to be concentrated in low-wage jobs and face persistent unemployment and earnings gaps compared to white employees — pointing to the “uncomfortable truth” about racism in the job market, according to a new study." Read the Toronto Star's coverage of our updated colour-coded labour market report, released […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Uploading the subway will not help Toronto commuters December 12, 2018
    The Ontario government is planning to upload Toronto’s subway, claiming it will allow for the rapid expansion of better public transit across the GTHA, but that’s highly doubtful. Why? Because Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek’s emphasis on public-private partnerships and a market-driven approach suggests privatization is the cornerstone of the province’s plan. Will dismembering the […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • 2018 State of the Inner City Report: Green Light Go...Improving Transportation Equity December 7, 2018
    Getting to doctors appointments, going to school, to work, attending social engagments, picking up groceries and even going to the beach should all affordable and accessible.  Check out Ellen Smirl's reserach on transportation equity in Winnipeg in this year's State of the Inner City Report!
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Inclusionary housing in a slow-growth city like Winnipeg December 3, 2018
    In Winnipeg, there is a need for more affordable housing, as 21 percent of households (64,065 households) are living in unaffordable housing--according to CMHC's definition of spending more than 30 percent of income on shelter.  This report examines to case studies in two American cities and how their experience could help shape an Inclusionary Housing […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • True, Lasting Reconciliation November 21, 2018
    For the first time, a report outlines what implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples could and should look like at the provincial level. This report focuses on implementation in BC law, policy and practices. Fundamental to the UN Declaration is an understanding that government must move from a “duty […]
    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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