truly dismal science:
linda mcquaig and the economics of fear

The Cult of Impotence
Linda McQuaig
(Viking Penguin, 305 pages)
the cult of impotence cover
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Though largely a sequel to her earlier, best-selling Shooting the Hippo, journalist Linda McQuaig’s The Cult of Impotence is an even better, and far more important book. Sharing a similar cast of characters from the world of government, business and academia, and using the same dramatic sweep to tell her story, McQuaig has raised her sights from the grim abstraction that is the deficit to the economic philosophy that rules the world in which we live today.

Shooting the Hippo targeted the single-minded pursuit of a “zero-inflation” policy pursued by the Bank of Canada and successive federal Ministers of Finance, a policy that has, in McQuaig’s view, devastated Canada by favoring the interests of the financial community over those of the average worker. What would otherwise have been a dry exercise in number-crunching and economic theory was enlived by bringing to life the suits and policy wonks who debate, define, and decree our country’s monetary policy with incisive character sketches and “you-were-there” retellings of the key events that have made Canada's economic strategy the marvel of the financial world for its draconian severity. 

The Cult of Impotence elaborates and expands on the previous book with a relentless analysis of the trope that dominates finance, business, government, and much the media in this age of Capitalism’s emergence as the sole system governing the globe--that the “free market” is a merciless and impartial judge of our fiscal and  governmental deeds, Darwinian in its logic, rewarding or punishing us dispassionately according to our adherence to its Olympian logic.  McQuaig brings to bear the same dramatizations of “behind closed door” meetings, but with a more sanguine sense of outrage, a palpable conviction that the stakes are higher as we head further into a scenario best described as economic scorched earth - a scenario that could have been avoided.

In this story, ironies abound. A much-heralded government policy paper ostensibly about “Jobs and Growth” is actually an explanation of why the Liberal government has to abandon its promise to boost employment in favor of the same deficit-obsessed programs that were an article of faith with Mulroney’s Tories. We have to raise interest rates, strangle every part of the economy but the financial markets, and accept a fixed percentage of the population permanently unemployed in order to pursue the nebulous goal of “zero inflation” - a goal that not even the policy’s defenders can argue will have any long or short term benefits for the nation. 

It’s a grim scenario that McQuaig paints, and one that presents the surreal vision of, in the much-used phrase, the tail wagging the dog.

©1998, 2002 Rick McGinnis