Sandra Finley

Aug 202017

With thanks to Cliff.  From The Guardian,

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world

The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era –

one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human.


Friday 18 August 2017 06.00 BST   Last modified on Saturday 19 August 2017 00.11 BST

Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

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Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality.

Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.) But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses.

Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.


Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression.

In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

No sooner had neoliberalism been certified as real, and no sooner had it made clear the universal hypocrisy of the market, than the populists and authoritarians came to power. In the US, Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal arch-villain, lost – and to a man who knew just enough to pretend he hated free trade. So are the eyeglasses now useless? Can they do anything to help us understand what is broken about British and American politics? Against the forces of global integration, national identity is being reasserted, and in the crudest possible terms. What could the militant parochialism of Brexit Britain and Trumpist America have to do with neoliberal rationality? What possible connection is there between the president – a freewheeling boob – and the bloodless paragon of efficiency known as the free market?

It isn’t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers – and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Brexit and Trump. There was, from the beginning, an inevitable relationship between the utopian ideal of the free market and the dystopian present in which we find ourselves; between the market as unique discloser of value and guardian of liberty, and our current descent into post-truth and illiberalism.

Moving the stale debate about neoliberalism forward begins, I think, with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effect on all of us, regardless of affiliation. And this requires returning to its origins, which have nothing to do with Bill or Hillary Clinton. There once was a group of people who did call themselves neoliberals, and did so proudly, and their ambition was a total revolution in thought. The most prominent among them, Friedrich Hayek, did not think he was staking out a position on the political spectrum, or making excuses for the fatuous rich, or tinkering along the edges of microeconomics.

He thought he was solving the problem of modernity: the problem of objective knowledge. For Hayek, the market didn’t just facilitate trade in goods and services; it revealed truth. How did his ambition collapse into its opposite – the mind-bending possibility that, thanks to our thoughtless veneration of the free market, truth might be driven from public life altogether?

When the idea occurred to Friedrich Hayek in 1936, he knew, with the conviction of a “sudden illumination”, that he had struck upon something new. “How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds,” he wrote, “bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?”


This was not a technical point about interest rates or deflationary slumps. This was not a reactionary polemic against collectivism or the welfare state. This was a way of birthing a new world. To his mounting excitement, Hayek understood that the market could be thought of as a kind of mind.

Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” had already given us the modern conception of the market: as an autonomous sphere of human activity and therefore, potentially, a valid object of scientific knowledge. But Smith was, until the end of his life, an 18th-century moralist. He thought the market could be justified only in light of individual virtue, and he was anxious that a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest was no society at all. Neoliberalism is Adam Smith without the anxiety.

That Hayek is considered the grandfather of neoliberalism – a style of thought that reduces everything to economics – is a little ironic given that he was such a mediocre economist. He was just a young, obscure Viennese technocrat when he was recruited to the London School of Economics to compete with, or possibly even dim, the rising star of John Maynard Keynes at Cambridge.

The plan backfired, and Hayek lost out to Keynes in a rout. Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, was greeted as a masterpiece. It dominated the public discussion, especially among young English economists in training, for whom the brilliant, dashing, socially connected Keynes was a beau idéal. By the end of the second world war, many prominent free-marketers had come around to Keynes’s way of thinking, conceding that government might play a role in managing a modern economy. The initial excitement over Hayek had dissipated. His peculiar notion that doing nothing could cure an economic depression had been discredited in theory and practice. He later admitted that he wished his work criticising Keynes would simply be forgotten.

Hayek cut a silly figure: a tall, erect, thickly accented professor in high-cut tweed, insisting on the formal “Von Hayek” but cruelly nicknamed “Mr Fluctooations” behind his back. In 1936, he was an academic without a portfolio and with no obvious future. Yet we now live in Hayek’s world, as we once lived in Keynes’s. Lawrence Summers, the Clinton adviser and former president of Harvard University, has said that Hayek’s conception of the price system as a mind is “as penetrating and original an idea as microeconomics produced in the 20th century” and “the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today”. This undersells it. Keynes did not make or predict the cold war, but his thinking wended its way into every aspect of the cold-war world; so too has Hayek’s thinking woven itself into every aspect of the post-1989 world.

Friedrich Hayek teaching at the London School of Economics in 1948. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty

Hayek’s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition. He begins by assuming that nearly all (if not all) human activity is a form of economic calculation, and so can be assimilated to the master concepts of wealth, value, exchange, cost – and especially price. Prices are a means of allocating scarce resources efficiently, according to need and utility, as governed by supply and demand. For the price system to function efficiently, markets must be free and competitive. Ever since Smith imagined the economy as an autonomous sphere, the possibility existed that the market might not just be one piece of society, but society as a whole. Within such a society, men and women need only follow their own self-interest and compete for scarce rewards. Through competition, “it becomes possible”, as the sociologist Will Davies has written, “to discern who and what is valuable”.


What any person acquainted with history sees as the necessary bulwarks against tyranny and exploitation – a thriving middle class and civil sphere; free institutions; universal suffrage; freedom of conscience, congregation, religion and press; a basic recognition that the individual is a bearer of dignity – held no special place in Hayek’s thought. Hayek built into neoliberalism the assumption that the market provides all necessary protection against the one real political danger: totalitarianism. To prevent this, the state need only keep the market free.

This last is what makes neoliberalism “neo”. It is a crucial modification of the older belief in a free market and a minimal state, known as “classical liberalism”. In classical liberalism, merchants simply asked the state to “leave us alone” – to laissez-nous faire. Neoliberalism recognised that the state must be active in the organisation of a market economy. The conditions allowing for a free market must be won politically, and the state must be re-engineered to support the free market on an ongoing basis.

That isn’t all: every aspect of democratic politics, from the choices of voters to the decisions of politicians, must be submitted to a purely economic analysis. The lawmaker is obliged to leave well enough alone – to not distort the natural actions of the marketplace – and so, ideally, the state provides a fixed, neutral, universal legal framework within which market forces operate spontaneously. The conscious direction of government is never preferable to the “automatic mechanism of adjustment” – ie the price system, which is not only efficient but maximises liberty, or the opportunity for men and women to make free choices about their own lives.

As Keynes jetted between London and Washington, creating the postwar order, Hayek sat pouting in Cambridge. He had been sent there during the wartime evacuations; and he complained that he was surrounded by “foreigners” and “no lack of orientals of all kinds” and “Europeans of practically all nationalities, but very few of real intelligence”.

Stuck in England, without influence or respect, Hayek had only his idea to console him; an idea so grand it would one day dissolve the ground beneath the feet of Keynes and every other intellectual. Left to its own devices, the price system functions as a kind of mind. And not just any mind, but an omniscient one: the market computes what individuals cannot grasp. Reaching out to him as an intellectual comrade-in-arms, the American journalist Walter Lippmann wrote to Hayek, saying: “No human mind has ever understood the whole scheme of a society … At best a mind can understand its own version of the scheme, something much thinner, which bears to reality some such relation as a silhouette to a man.”

It is a grand epistemological claim – that the market is a way of knowing, one that radically exceeds the capacity of any individual mind. Such a market is less a human contrivance, to be manipulated like any other, than a force to be studied and placated. Economics ceases to be a technique – as Keynes believed it to be – for achieving desirable social ends, such as growth or stable money. The only social end is the maintenance of the market itself. In its omniscience, the market constitutes the only legitimate form of knowledge, next to which all other modes of reflection are partial, in both senses of the word: they comprehend only a fragment of a whole and they plead on behalf of a special interest. Individually, our values are personal ones, or mere opinions; collectively, the market converts them into prices, or objective facts.


After washing out at LSE, Hayek never held a permanent appointment that was not paid for by corporate sponsors. Even his conservative colleagues at the University of Chicago – the global epicentre of libertarian dissent in the 1950s – regarded Hayek as a reactionary mouthpiece, a “stock rightwing man” with a “stock rightwing sponsor”, as one put it. As late as 1972, a friend could visit Hayek, now in Salzburg, only to find an elderly man prostrate with self-pity, believing his life’s work was in vain. No one cared what he had written!

There had, however, been hopeful signs: Hayek was Barry Goldwater’s favourite political philosopher and was said to be Ronald Reagan’s, too. Then there was Margaret Thatcher. To anyone who would listen, Thatcher lionised Hayek, promising to bring together his free-market philosophy with a revival of Victorian values: family, community, hard work.

Hayek met privately with Thatcher in 1975, at the very moment that she, having been named leader of the opposition in the UK, was preparing to bring his Big Idea off the shelf and into history. They huddled for 30 minutes on Lord North Street in London, at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Afterwards, Thatcher’s staff anxiously asked Hayek what he had thought. What could he say? For the first time in 40 years, power was mirroring back to Friedrich von Hayek his own cherished self-image, a man who might vanquish Keynes and remake the world.

He replied: “She’s so beautiful.”

Hayek’s Big Idea isn’t much of an idea – until you supersize it. Organic, spontaneous, elegant processes that, like a million fingers on a Ouija board, coordinate to create outcomes that are otherwise unplanned. Applied to an actual market – one for pork bellies or corn futures – this description is little more than a truism. It can be expanded to describe how various markets, in commodities and labour and even money itself, form that part of a society known as “the economy”. This is less banal, but still inconsequential; a Keynesian accepts this description happily. But what if we bump it up one more step? What if we reconceive all of society as a kind of market?

The more Hayek’s idea expands, the more reactionary it gets, the more it hides behind its pretence of scientific neutrality – and the more it allows economics to link up with the major intellectual trend of the west since the 17th century. The rise of modern science generated a problem: if the world is universally obedient to natural laws, what does it mean to be human? Is a human being simply an object in the world, like any other? There appears to be no way to assimilate the subjective, interior human experience into nature as science conceives it – as something objective whose rules we discover by observation.

Everything about the postwar political culture lay in favour of John Maynard Keynes, and an expanded role for the state in managing the economy. But everything about the postwar academic culture lay in favour of Hayek’s Big Idea. Before the war, even the most rightwing economist thought of the market as a means to a limited end, to the efficient allocation of scarce resources. From the time of Adam Smith in the mid-1700s, and up to that of the founding members of the Chicago school in the postwar years, it was commonplace to believe that the ultimate ends of society and of life, were established in the non-economic sphere.



John Maynard Keynes, circa 1940. Photograph: Tim Gidal/Getty

On this view, questions of value are resolved politically and democratically, not economically – through moral reflection and public deliberation. The classic modern expression of this belief is found in a 1922 essay called Ethics and the Economic Interpretation by Frank Knight, who arrived at Chicago two decades before Hayek. “The rational economic criticism of values gives results repugnant to common sense,” Knight wrote. “Economic man is the selfish, ruthless object of moral condemnation.”

Economists had struggled for 200 years with the question of how to place the values on which an otherwise commercial society is organised beyond mere self-interest and calculation. Knight, along with his colleagues Henry Simons and Jacob Viner, were holdouts against Franklin D Roosevelt and the market interventions of the New Deal, and they established the University of Chicago as the intellectually rigorous home of free-market economics that it remains to this day. However, Simons, Viner and Knight all started their careers before the unrivalled prestige of atomic physicists drew enormous sums of money into the university system and kicked off a postwar vogue for “hard” science. They did not worship equations or models, and they worried about non-scientific questions. Most explicitly, they worried about questions of value, where value was absolutely distinct from price.


It is not just that Simons, Viner and Knight were less dogmatic than Hayek, or more willing to pardon the state for taxing and spending. It is not the case that Hayek was their intellectual superior. But they acknowledged as a first principle that society was not the same thing as the market, and that price was not the same thing as value. This set them up to be swallowed whole by history.

It was Hayek who showed us how to get from the hopeless condition of human partiality to the majestic objectivity of science. Hayek’s Big Idea acts as the missing link between our subjective human nature, and nature itself. In so doing, it puts any value that cannot be expressed as a price – as the verdict of a market – on an equally unsure footing, as nothing more than opinion, preference, folklore or superstition.

More than anyone, even Hayek himself, it was the great postwar Chicago economist Milton Friedman who helped convert governments and politicians to the power of Hayek’s Big Idea. But first he broke with two centuries of precedent and declared that economics is “in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments” and is “an ‘objective’ science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences”. Values of the old, mental, normative kind were defective, they were “differences about which men can ultimately only fight”. There is the market, in other words, and there is relativism.

Markets may be human facsimiles of natural systems, and like the universe itself, they may be authorless and valueless. But the application of Hayek’s Big Idea to every aspect of our lives negates what is most distinctive about us. That is, it assigns what is most human about human beings – our minds and our volition – to algorithms and markets, leaving us to mimic, zombie-like, the shrunken idealisations of economic models. Supersizing Hayek’s idea and radically upgrading the price system into a kind of social omniscience means radically downgrading the importance of our individual capacity to reason – our ability to provide and evaluate justifications for our actions and beliefs.

As a result, the public sphere – the space where we offer up reasons, and contest the reasons of others – ceases to be a space for deliberation, and becomes a market in clicks, likes and retweets. The internet is personal preference magnified by algorithm; a pseudo-public space that echoes the voice already inside our head. Rather than a space of debate in which we make our way, as a society, toward consensus, now there is a mutual-affirmation apparatus banally referred to as a “marketplace of ideas”. What looks like something public and lucid is only an extension of our own pre-existing opinions, prejudices and beliefs, while the authority of institutions and experts has been displaced by the aggregative logic of big data. When we access the world through a search engine, its results are ranked, as the founder of Google puts it, “recursively” – by an infinity of individual users functioning as a market, continuously and in real time.

The awesome utilities of digital technology aside, an earlier and more humanist tradition, which was dominant for centuries, had always distinguished between our tastes and preferences – the desires that find expression in the market – and our capacity for reflection on those preferences, which allows us to form and express values.


“A taste is almost defined as a preference about which you do not argue,” the philosopher and economist Albert O Hirschman once wrote. “A taste about which you argue, with others or yourself, ceases ipso facto being a taste – it turns into a value.”

Hirschman drew a distinction between that part of one’s self that is a consumer, and that part of one’s self that is a supplier of reasons. The market reflects what Hirschman called the preferences that are “revealed by agents as they buy goods and services”. But, as he puts it, men and women also “have the ability to step back from their ‘revealed’ wants, volition and preferences, to ask themselves whether they really want these wants and prefer these preferences”. We fashion our selves and identities on the basis of this capacity for reflection. The use of one’s individual reflective powers is reason; the collective use of these reflective powers is public reason; the use of public reason to make law and policy is democracy. When we provide reasons for our actions and beliefs, we bring ourselves into being: individually and collectively, we decide who and what we are.

According to the logic of Hayek’s Big Idea, these expressions of human subjectivity are meaningless without ratification by the market – as Friedman said, they are nothing but relativism, each as good as any other. When the only objective truth is determined by the market, all other values have the status of mere opinions; everything else is relativist hot air. But Friedman’s “relativism” is a charge that can be thrown at any claim based on human reason. It is a nonsense insult, as all humanistic pursuits are “relative” in a way the sciences are not. They are relative to the (private) condition of having a mind, and the (public) need to reason and understand even when we can’t expect scientific proof. When our debates are no longer resolved by deliberation over reasons, then the whimsies of power will determine the outcome.

This is where the triumph of neoliberalism meets the political nightmare we are living through now. “You had one job,” the old joke goes, and Hayek’s grand project, as originally conceived in 30s and 40s, was explicitly designed to prevent a backslide into political chaos and fascism. But the Big Idea was always this abomination waiting to happen. It was, from the beginning, pregnant with the thing it was said to protect against. Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.

In 1989, an American reporter knocked on the 90-year-old Hayek’s door. He was living in Freiburg, West Germany, in a third-floor apartment in a stucco house on Urachstrasse. The two men sat in a sunroom whose windows looked out on the mountains, and Hayek, who was recovering from pneumonia, pulled a blanket over his legs as they spoke.

This was no longer the man who had once wallowed in his own defeat at the hands of Keynes. Thatcher had just written to Hayek in a tone of millennial triumph. None of what she and Reagan had accomplished “would have been possible without the values and beliefs to set us on the right road and provide the right sense of direction”. Hayek was now cheerful on his own account, and optimistic about the future of capitalism. As the journalist wrote, “In particular, Hayek sees a greater appreciation for the market among the younger generation. Today unemployed youth in Algiers and Rangoon riot not for centrally planned welfare state but for opportunity: the freedom to buy and sell – jeans, cars, whatever – at whatever prices the market will bear.”

Thirty years on, and it can fairly be said that Hayek’s victory is unrivalled. We live in a paradise built by his Big Idea. The more closely the world can be made to resemble an ideal market governed only by perfect competition, the more law-like and “scientific” human behaviour, in the aggregate, becomes. Every day we ourselves – no one has to tell us to anymore! – strive to become more perfectly like scattered, discrete, anonymous buyers and sellers; and every day we treat the residual desire to be something more than a consumer as nostalgia, or elitism.

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next


What began as a new form of intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview, nudged easily into an ultra-reactionary politics. What can’t be quantified must not be real, says the economist, and how do you measure the benefits of the core faiths of the enlightenment – namely, critical reasoning, personal autonomy and democratic self-government? When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.

The authority of the professor, the reformer, the legislator or the jurist does not derive from the market, but from humanistic values such as public spiritedness, conscience or the longing for justice. Long before the Trump administration started demeaning them, such figures had been drained of salience by an explanatory scheme that can’t explain them. Surely there is a connection between their growing irrelevance and the election of Trump, a creature of pure whim, a man without the principles or conviction to make for a coherent self. A man without a mind, who represents the total absence of reason, is running the world; or at least ruining it. As a Manhattan real estate wiseguy, though, Trump, hey – he knows what he knows: that his sins have yet to be punished in the marketplace.

Main illustration by Bratislav Milenkovic

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Aug 192017
Julian Assange in 2016 (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Julian Assange in 2016 (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Far-right blogger and provocateur Chuck C. Johnson said on Thursday that he helped arrange a highly unusual meeting between Orange County GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week.

Rohrabacher said in a statement that he plans to bring information to President Trump from the three-hour meeting, which took place Wednesday in London at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange has been living in asylum since 2012.

He would not detail that information to The Times, but in an interview Thursday morning with the Daily Caller, Rohrabacher was more explicit, saying he and Assange talked about “what might be necessary to get him out” and suggested they discussed a presidential pardon in exchange for information on the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were published by WikiLeaks before the 2016 presidential election.

“He has information that will be of dramatic importance to the United States and the people of our country as well as to our government,” Rohrabacher told the Daily Caller. “Thus if he comes up with that, you know he’s going to expect something in return. He can’t even leave the embassy to get out to Washington to talk to anybody if he doesn’t have a pardon.”

Johnson, who is known for being banned from Twitter after he asked users for help “taking out” a civil rights activist, said that he and Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson also were in the meeting.

Johnson wrote in an email to The Times that the meeting was the result of a “desire for ongoing communications” from both Rohrabacher and Assange. Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said the congressman alerted the White House about his planned trip to visit Assange. The White House has not confirmed whether it was aware of the meeting ahead of time.

Rohrabacher’s office said that during the meeting, Assange repeated his claims that the Russian government was not involved in the theft of Democratic emails.

The release of the emails put Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on the defensive and are among the incidents that led to investigations by the Justice Department and multiple House and Senate committees into potential ties between President Trump’s campaign and election meddling. Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies think Russia was involved in the theft of the emails.

In a statement, DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, “We’ll take the word of the U.S. intelligence community over Julian Assange and Putin’s favorite Congressman.”

Assange, who has been criticized by many U.S. officials for WikiLeaks’ alleged ties to Russia, remains in asylum at least in part because British authorities have threatened him with arrest for jumping bail after Sweden made sexual assault allegations against him. Those allegations since have been dropped, but Assange, who is Australian, also could face legal problems in the U.S. The Washington Post reported in April that federal prosecutors were weighing whether to bring charges against members of WikiLeaks, in part over information leaked by Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of handing over diplomatic cables to the organization.

Rohrabacher, who has long been criticized for his fondness for Russia, believes he is the only congressman who has visited Assange.

Shortly after the trip was revealed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for Rohrabacher to step down from his post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he chairs a subcommittee on Eurasian affairs.

Grubbs called the Democratic committee’s call “absurdly but predictably partisan.”

Grubbs also said Rohrabacher paid for the trip to London — which he took while many of his House colleagues are working and holding town hall meetings in their districts — with personal funds.

Aug 162017

An opportunity for a better approach to sewage treatment?

There is a much less expensive and common sense approach than the current one.  . . .  Truly!

(This posting is under development.   If you have thoughts on it, please let me know.  Thanks!)

My curiosity and activism over sewage treatment began in the 1970’s.   I was young and from a land-locked community that didn’t have a river or ocean for dumping of sewage.  My memory goes as far back as the “honey wagon” that weekly traveled the back alleys where residents put out their “honey pail”.   Pure sewage.  The wagon was pulled by a horse.  I don’t know where it was emptied or how it was cleaned out.

What I couldn’t figure out, years later in Halifax, was why there were so many condoms on the rocks at Point Pleasant Park.  The light started to dawn when, on a beach on a fine summer day, I saw the little kids playing in the water with small, plastic, pastel-coloured “submarines” that looked an awful lot like tampon tubes.   But that didn’t make any sense because I couldn’t imagine that mothers would let their children play with discarded tampon tubes washed up on the beach.   . . .  in the end, and through the years,  I learned a lot about sewage “treatment” that I didn’t really want to know!

The links below work, even if they show that they don’t.

THE STORY TODAY:  Bowser votes on sewage treatment 

From the article:

  • the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has decided on recommending “marine disposal” over ground disposal for sewage in the village of Bowser.
  • the proposed sewage pipe would extend about 2 kilometres into the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland B.C.).
  • RDN Chair Bill Veenhof said the effluent, “will be treated to meet or exceed Canadian federal and provincial standards.”   (My question is always “what specific standards?”  Level 1 sewage treatment is the use of a screen to catch objects such as condoms and plastic tampon tubes that are flushed down toilets, so they don’t go out to sea.  Is that what we’re talking about?  I asked the RDN.  The answer is NO  – – –   read on.)
  • Estimated cost of the proposal for Bowser’s sewage treatment:

The Newspaper reports $10.7 million   But see below, “Reconcile” with the Engineers’ Report.  Capital cost:  $11,272,000 to $11,921,000

The newspaper says:

$4,262,962  wastewater treatment plant  (don’t you love the language – – “waste water”.  But that’s water that we and others eventually “recycle” through our bodies, through drinking it and through plants and animals that we eat.  We don’t get “new” water (think of “acid rain” or “2,4-D rain in southern Alberta, or mercury levels in fish). According to how we use the word,  it seems to me that all water is “waste” water – – it has gone through many different bodies over the centuries.)

$3,877,154 for the collection system

$2,541,395 for “marine outfall”  (which sounds like some kind of accident).  In plain language:  $2.5 million for a trenched pipe that carries the waste water 2 kilometres out to sea.

RECONCILE with the Engineers’ Report:

The numbers from the Engineers’ (Stantec) Report, (page 2), sent by the RDN (appended)  Bowser Village Wastewater Service Area Draft Design Report – April 2017:

as much as a million dollars more than the newspaper reported.

Wastewater Treatment Plant   $4,091,000
Collection System   $4,052,000
Marine Outfall (Option A or B)   $2,341,000 to $2,990,000
Permitting, Archaeological, Engineering  $788,000
TOTAL     $$11,272,000 to $11,921,000
The newspaper excluded the
Permitting, Archaeological, Engineering  cost  of  $788,000.
And other numbers vary somewhat.
These are the CAPITAL COSTS.  They do not include annual operating costs that local property owners will have to cover without federal and provincial grants.  Bowser’s population (2016) is 188.

Linguistically, what is the relationship between the words affluent and effluent?

Ironically, the archaic use of “affluent” is  (of water) flowing freely or in great quantity.  Archaic  noun: a tributary stream.

Take the Latin word fluere which means to flow.

Add “af” and you get AFFLUENT,  flowing toward.

Add “ef” and you get EFFLUENT,  flowing away from, a use that didn’t start until the mid-19th century (industrial revolution).

liquid waste or sewage discharged into a river or the sea.
“the bay was contaminated with the effluent from an industrial plant”
Ha ha!  the Affluent have clean water, affluent flowing out their kitchen taps.   And (the appended article on the floating cities (cruise ships):  the Affluent dispose of their Effluent into unregulated Canadian waters!

 POPULATION OF BOWSER, the Community contemplating the $11 million dollar sewage treatment:   The Design Report from the Engineers. page 1:

The new wastewater system being proposed will be required to service the existing developed properties in the Bowser Village Centre, and provide sufficient capacity to allow for future service to the Future Use Area. Using the 2016 population of 188, which has been extrapolated from Statistics Canada data, and applying a 5% annual growth rate, results in a 2036 design population of 499 . . . .

From the RDN, August 16, 2017 (before I knew the actual population number.  I was asking questions.):

  • It is “not for sure” that the project is going ahead.
  • The Design Report from the engineering consultants is for:

Level 2 (“secondary”) treatment.

They are recommending “Sequencing Batch Reactor” technology.   (Sandra speaking:  In general,  “batches” of sewage go through a sequence of roughly five steps referred to as:  fill, react, settle, decant and desludge.

1.   fill a tank with a batch of sewage

2.   react  it.  There are a couple of meanings.   Aerate (bubbles of oxygen to multiply aerobic bacteria; add other ingredients – – basically cause reactions that form  non-soluble compounds) which then leads to the next step . . .

3.   settle – – the non-solubles settle out

4.   decant  – – To decant is to gradually pour a liquid from one container into another, especially without disturbing the sediment.  Wine and beer makers know the term.   The water on top of the sludge exits   (*this is when it goes through the UV Reactor).   The “waste water” then travels through the sewage outfall pipe 2 kilometres out into the other container, the Salish Sea.

* Which brings up the other meaning of “React”.

UV disinfecting is included in the Design Report.  UV disinfecting replaces the use of such chemicals as chlorine to kill organisms (disinfect) the “waste water”.   UV radiation at the right dose and amount of time affects the DNA of organisms, making them incapable of reproducing.   When the “settle out” step is finished, the waste water passes through a container often called a Reactor.  It contains the UV lamps that disinfect the water.  More info:  a.   (1999; it describes UV disinfection in understandable language).  OR  b.

So a “Sequencing Batch Reactor”  takes sewage, settles out the debris and anything that can be made to sink, draws off water (decants), disinfects the water (UV radiation), and runs it out to sea through a $2.5 million “sewage outfall”.

The RDN points out that tertiary filtration is part of the proposal.  “Tertiary” means third level.    Explained above:  “primary treatment” means you put a screen over the sewer pipes to prevent solids like condoms from entering the disposal field, river, or ocean.   Secondary treatment means you go a step further (the basic RDN proposal).  Tertiary water treatment encompasses the removal of inorganic compounds like nitrogen and phosphorus, whereas  – – “Tertiary Filtration” in a Secondary treatment system is aimed at removing the fine suspended solids that don’t settle out.   The water will be run through Granular Filters, for example, silica sand, anthracite, gravel, garnet.

One last step in the sequence:

5.   desludge – – remove the sludge at the bottom of the tank.   Where will it go?

 from the Engineers’ Report, page 1:    . . .   it is hauled off-site to the French Creek Pollution Control Centre (FCPCC) for further processing.

Someday I’d like to view the “further processing”.

See below, APPENDED,  the email from the RDN that has the documents.

  • . . .  An $11 million dollar project for tax-payers and local property owners, for a local population of 188, projected to be 499 by 2036 ??

Bowser area residents have their own septic fields.   The area has pristine beaches and attracts increasing traffic.

It may be Land Developers who want sewage treatment, financed by Federal, Provincial grants; and by local residents  (by all tax-payers)?

Makes me wonder two things:

      how are tax-payers going to cover the cost of sewage treatment for everyone in the country?   Fair is fair.

      the bigger question:   how is it that sewage treatment in First Nations communities with far larger populations isn’t funded?


(coming – – the obvious alternative makes economic sense.  What the RDN is proposing makes no economic or practical sense that I can see.)


RAW SEWAGE, WEST COAST WATERS  (a couple of examples):


  • Cruise on down to our dumping ground

. . .    the ship’s owners admitted fouling Canadian waters three times. The infractions cost Celebrity Cruises $100,000 in fines in Washington. In Canada, it paid nothing.

“The excuse was, ‘We’ll pay the fine in Washington but we won’t pay the fine in Canada because Canada doesn’t care,'” said Ross Klein, a social-work professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a leading critic of the cruise industry. “Even if you’re brain-dead, it’s obvious if you’ve got to follow regulations in California, Washington, and Alaska, and you don’t in Canada, what are you going to do in Canada? That in itself speaks volumes.”

The Mercury’s inconsistent treatment is indicative of how the cruise industry has evolved on the Pacific coast, with each jurisdiction applying its own standards to the ships. At one end of the run is Alaska, which, thanks to an August 2006 referendum, has by far the toughest laws. At the other end is Washington state, which has a memorandum of understanding with the industry that is at least strong enough to allow the state to fine ships like the Mercury when they dump in Washington waters.

In the middle is B.C., which depends on its federal government to protect the coast. Canada has never fined a cruise ship for a violation and is unlikely to do so under current guidelines. “It’s a green light to empty your holding tank between Washington state and Alaska,” Klein said. Canada’s weak guidelines and lack of enforcement send a clear message to cruise-ship owners about how they are to regard B.C., he said. “It means it’s the toilet bowl.”

THE MERCURY IS JUST one of 33 Vancouver-based cruise ships that will be churning through B.C. on the Alaska run this summer, which actually kicked off on April 8 with the arrival of the Zaandam. Altogether, they will make about 300 trips and carry an estimated 930,000 passengers, each paying an average of $1,500, up the coast and back. Many of the ships carry more than 2,000 people, making them the equivalent of floating cities, with all the consumer needs and wastes you would expect from a luxury resort of that size. (The next generation of ships, the first of which will be ready in 2009, will carry more than 8,000 passengers. Besides the liquid waste, each person on a cruise produces 3.5 kilograms of garbage per day, Klein said, much more than they would in their land-based lives.) Much of the ships’ time in the province will be in the confined waters of Hecate Strait, the Inside Passage, and between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

“There is a great concern that Canada could become a dumping ground,” said Fred Felleman, a Seattle-based researcher who consults on cruise-ship issues for the Bluewater Network, a national organization fighting marine pollution. With the relatively contained waters and vulnerable whale populations, he said, that’s a worry. “I don’t believe there’s any place we should be dumping sewage sludges, but if you have to dump sludges, you don’t want to do it in the Inside Passage.”

But the current rules are likely making it more and more attractive for the cruise companies to do just that. “It’s going to be Haro Strait, Georgia Strait, or Queen Charlotte Sound, would be my guess.”

CONCERNS:  how little we know – –



Sent: August 16, 2017 5:10 PM
To:  (Sandra Finley)
Cc: Alexander, Randy
Subject: Bowser Village Centre Wastewater Project

Greetings Sandra,

Thank you for your phone call today regarding the Bowser Village Centre Wastewater Project.  I have forwarded your comments to the project team.

As discussed, this email is to provide some additional resources.

The proposed system design will provide secondary treatment through Sequencing Batch Reactor technology, with added UV disinfection of the treated effluent. The treatment technologies and treatment levels in the design were selected to meet and exceed federal and provincial regulatory requirements. The “Bowser Village Wastewater Service Area Draft Design Report – April 2017” describes the technologies considered, including tertiary filtration. (See Technical Memo 1, pages 175-194 of the PDF linked above.) The Wastewater Treatment System FAQ sheet provides information about the proposed treatment system as well.

Please note project updates and resources are available at


Deanna McGillivray

Special Projects Coordinator, Wastewater Services

Regional District of Nanaimo

Aug 072017

(The links work;  I don’t know why the line is through them.)

Please help stop more corporate takeover; Politicians who sell us out.  Add your name to the petition: 

Christy Clark lost her position as Premier of B.C., in large part due to her servicing of corporate interests, and the money flowing into the B.C. Liberal Party because of that.  People from across Canada helped with the campaign to create awareness of the corruption of democracy in B.C..  And won.  The unseating of the Clark government sent a message across Canada.   By signing the petition to stop yet another servicing of corporate interests by a Provincial Government,  this time in Saskatchewan,  we grow our strength another notch.

Canadians will pitch in (the petition), but people in Saskatchewan should be phoning their MLAs.  If they don’t,  they should not complain when the Government proceeds with the privatization, and their communications (phone, internet) bills start going up, to the levels in B.C. and other regions of Canada.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  — –

The direct cost to the people of Saskatchewan, if the privatization of Sasktel (a crown corporation) goes ahead, will be huge.   What the people have built over the decades will be sold at a fraction of its value;  and people will be paying the rates charged in other provinces.  (I just did some comparisons because of phone service for my daughter.)

The CCPA graphs make it clear, and show  it will be bad for the rest of Canada, too – – the private carriers will have a stranglehold on the whole country.  Worth taking a look.  With thanks to Simon Enoch:

CCPA  – Behind the numbers  ]

Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir started a petition to ensure the privatization doesn’t proceed.  I signed it.  As I see it, we need to do WHATEVER we can, to stop further concentration of power and wealth and especially when it’s the communications sector in a democracy that will take another direct hit.  THE PETITION (once again):

My reply to a friend (next) shows my cost for service in B.C. (where what used to be public service is now privatized), compared with Sasktel (communications are considered to be a service, like schools and roads, that citizens joined hands, decades ago to provide, through their government).

= = = = = = =
On Sat, 5 Aug 2017, Sandra Finley wrote:

RE:  Subject: Should we start calling Brad Wall a liar?  (looks like Privatization of Sasktel in the works?)

We should start calling Premier Brad Wall an employee of Large Corporations.

My daughter has been on her father’s Sasktel family package for cell phone coverage.

While in Sask I purchased cell phone coverage on a Sasktel plan.

And I still have and use my Sasktel email account.

Both are superior (in cost and service) to anything I can get in B.C. where there isn’t a crown corporation for communications service for citizens.

Saskatchewanians should wake up.  Look at the costs:

  • Cell phone coverage in B.C. is usually through Telus.   I don’t think there’s much competition, except through outfits like Virgin Mobile.   Virgin has franchisees.  I tried them last year.  It was not good – – they don’t have the depth in resources to work out problems, even when they are THEIR technical problems.   And you have little recourse to corrective action.  Shaw, the other internet provider, does not offer cell phone service.
  • The rates at Telus in B.C. are easily DOUBLE the costs of Sasktel’s service, as far as I can determine from the Telus website.  (NEW:  the CCPA analysis received since I had Telus under consideration, supports my conclusion.)
  • Premier Wall will hose the citizens of Sask.   But he’ll come out just fine, thank-you.  (Follow the money, honey, if you want to make sense of that which doesn’t make sense  (selling off Sasktel).)  The pay-offs to Officials when they are no longer in power, are magnificent.   Wall will be rewarded by Cameco, by the Oil & Gas industry,  by whoever buys Sasktel if that sale goes through, and by American interests.   Seats on corporate Boards of Directors provide lucrative retirement income, if you’ve been nice to them while you were in power.
  • If you compare the Shaw product listings for Internet  (“bundles” for example) and their billing,  the Sasktel bills spell out what you are paying for, and it all adds up.   Shaw product info and billing are designed to confuse,  and they are always changing things.  You can’t just sign up for what you want and rely on that.  For example, you are often signing up for something that is good for 6 months or a year,  and then the rate automatically increases, with no notice.   You have to phone them.   And be savvy:  if you know how to play your cards,  when you start suggesting that you want to check out what you can get elsewhere, the front-line personnel hand you over to their “loyalty team”.
  • In this way, I recently had my current bill cut by one-third (from $146 to $95).  And on an on-going basis, at least until their next automatic increase,  I will pay more than $35 less per month than I was  ($110 vs $146).  I would not have gotten those rates, if I had not learned from the same experience last year.  You can’t trust them, and if you don’t know about the “loyalty team” and how it operates, the front-line responders to your questions, do not tell you that the rate is actually flexible – – by a lot!  They just sound sympathetic, and then repeat the current rate.
  • They try to document your call as a complaint about the August 1st  rate increase sanctioned for the mobile phone industry by the CRTC.  I had to repeat my instruction NOT to record my complaint as such, because that was not what it was.  I knew nothing about that increase ($7).  I called because I wanted to understand my current bill  (which, as I mentioned, was ultimately cut by one-third by the “Loyalty Team”  – – all I did was to be nice and keep asking questions about my bill that made no sense).  But you see – – they will report all these complaints as being the fault of the CRTC, nothing to do with them.
  • Another factor:  You have to have THE TIME to stay on the line, and not hang up in frustration when put on hold  (I just work on something else while I’m waiting).  Working parents, for example – – do they have the time and the assertiveness, AND the information to KNOW that you can get a better rate?   As usual,  those who cannot afford the higher rates are the ones who are paying them.
  • I don’t get it why people don’t talk to their neighbours, spread the word, organize, and get into the streets if necessary, or just sign the petition – – they aren’t going to stop another fiasco (the privatization of Sasktel) if they don’t.   It’s almost as though they LIKE to be victims?  . . .  The price of  de-boned chicken is very high, in comparison to chicken with the bone in!


I hope that Premier Wall and his colleagues are outed and stopped.  Wall worked for the Grant Devine Govt  (the most corrupt in the history of the Province;  some of them went to jail.)  They are the ones who ended the dental programme for children through the schools – – they completely dismantled it, sold off all the equipment that had been bought (by the citizens) and installed in the schools.  They should never have gotten away with doing that – – they were not re-elected, but that doesn’t matter:  once gone,  citizens do not get it back.   And note that the cost of dental service continues to escalate because of insurance.   I really don’t know how families who don’t have dental insurance plans can afford dental care for themselves and their children.  A healthy mouth contributes enormously to a healthy body, and the reduction of medicare costs.

On that cheery note,

I hope you are doing well!


= = = = = = = = =

Sent: August 4, 2017 3:31 PM
Subject: FYI: Should we start calling Brad Wall a liar?

Should we start calling Brad Wall a liar?  ]

July 18, 2017

Regina—The steady flow of rumours about privatizing Saskatchewan’s beloved Crown corporations is making it increasingly difficult to conclude that Brad Wall was truthful during the 2016 election, says Unifor.

“Brad Wall misled voters,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “If the Sask Party wants to dismantle public services and sell off Crown corporations that took generations to build, they should have the decency to run an election on the issue.”

On April 26, 2016 the Sask Party promised the CBC in writing [ ]  that no Crown corporations covered under The Crown Corporations Act would be privatized, but later amended that legislation with Bill 40 [  ] to enable unprecedented privatization. This week Minister Dustin Duncan confirmed that backroom talks are underway to privatize Sasktel.  [  ]

“Brad Wall has no mandate to sell off public assets that generate millions in dividends for the people of Saskatchewan,” said Joie Warnock, Unifor Western Regional Director. “Selling-off Crown corporations would be a disaster for the long-term health of hospital and school funding.”

Among other sectors, Unifor represents thousands of Crown corporation workers at SaskTel, SaskEnergy, SaskPower, and SaskWater.

For more information, please contact Unifor Communications Representative Ian Boyko at or 778-903-6549 (cell).

= = = = = =

‘Really bothered about this’: Potential sale of gov’t-run low-income housing units raises concern  –  August 3, 2017 ]

Sask. budget hikes sales tax to 6%, kills provincial bus company  –  March 22, 2017  ]


Aug 052017
Ann Mortifee, CM is a Canadian singer, composer and librettist, author, storyteller, and keynote speaker. Her music blends folk, musical theatre, pop, sacred and world music. Wikipedia

In my opinion, the range and power of her voice and talents is extraordinary.   I am surprised when people don’t know her name.

From her CD  Healing Journey,  the lyrics for



We were born to live, not just survive

Though the road be long and the river wide

Though the seasons change and the willows bend

Though some dreams break, some others mend


We were born to give and born to take

To win and lose and to celebrate

We were born to know and born to muse

To unfold our hearts, take a chance and choose


We were born to love though we feel the thorn

When a ship sets sail to return no more

Though a door be closed and we feel the pain

To chance it all and to love again


We were born to reach, to seek what’s true

To surrender all to make each day new

We were born to laugh and born to cry

To rejoice and grieve, just be be alive


We were born to hope and to know despair

And to stand alone when there’s no one there

We were born to trust and to understand

That in every heart there’s an outstretched hand


We were born to live, to be right and wrong

To be false and true, to be weak and strong

We were born to live, to break down the walls

And to know that life is to taste it all

Aug 052017

Ladakh is an old Buddhist Kingdom, high in the Himayalas, now a part of India.  The capital city is Leh.

It has lessons for us.

Series of Youtubes:    (The links work, even if they show as not)


1.  I watched    Ancient Futures, Learning from Ladakh.  You will see pictures of Helena Norberg-Hodge as a young woman:,   December 2012, an hour.

2.   Curious about Helena Norberg-Hodge, I then watched her TedTalkThe Economics of Happiness   (June 2011,  18 minutes)

3.   Culmination, very worthwhile:   Helena Norberg-Hodge Full Interview – A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity   (August 2015, an hour, 14 minutes.)



Two excerpts from #1, if you just want a sample.   These do not take you to the level of thinking that is in #3, the Culmination:

a.   economics:  June 2014, under 2 minutes.

b.   introduction (first 4 minutes of the film):, June 2011


Aug 022017

Background?    There is a very good German video that explains how “the monster payday” works.   Note the date:

2015-11-16 YouTube: German Public TV tells Europeans re ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlements).   Canada? U.S.? What are we seeing?

The recent report below related to Argentina is evidence of how widespread the problem is.   Canadians point out that WE are the most sued under the Free Trade “deals”. The Argentinians are in the same boat with us.

I sat in on an American Trade Justice webinar.  With the re-negotiation of NAFTA in progress, strategically, they are hitting on one theme which they think is all that their population can handle, the ISDS clauses.   Thankfully,  I think Canadians have been in a state of “growing awareness” for years now, so it’s possible to address the ISDS clauses, plus other egregious clauses.

The above German YouTube posting has some links to more information.   Or, enter  “ISDS” into the”search” box (upper right corner) to generate more postings.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


A monster payday in Argentina shows a flaw in Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation

David Dayen

A COMPANY THAT SPECIALIZES in bankrolling lawsuits has won a huge payday from the government of Argentina, in one of the biggest examples of financiers using the secret courts embedded in trade agreements as casinos.

Burford Capital, the world’s largest firm for “litigation finance,” will earn $140 million on a $13 million investment in an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) case against Argentina over the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas, the nation’s flagship airline. The case was brought under Argentina’s bilateral investment treaty with Spain; the investors in the airline were Spanish.

Under ISDS, part of over 3,000 trade agreements worldwide, corporations can sue governments for changes in law or regulation that violate trade agreements, and win awards equaling “expected future profits” they might have otherwise gained. The idea was to protect investors from seizure of assets, outside the court system of the offending government. But instead of helping companies resolve legitimate disputes over seized assets, ISDS has increasingly become a means for rich investors to speculate on lawsuits, winning huge awards and forcing local taxpayers to foot the bill.

Donald Trump did not seek to eliminate ISDS in his negotiating objectivesfor reimagining NAFTA. He will only try to add some transparency mechanisms, such as making hearings and final rulings publicly available. The Burford Capital award reveals why that is wholly inadequate.    . . .

Please read the remainder of the article at: 



David Dayen

david.dayen AT


Aug 022017

Radio on.    Happened to catch this reply to a question:


Max Greenfield, CBC programme “Q”,  at the 16:52 minute mark:

Who is to say?   . . .   Life, in general, is more fun if  (chuckling) you kind of get out of the way and just sort of let it happen

 and be excited by whatever it has in store for you.

That seems to be the way that I’ve approached things, even though (chuckling) at times it’s been like

Nooo!!   and – – you know – – the frustration happens  and I think

any sort of frustration I’ve had about it,  or whatever that might have been,

were the only times where I’ve been, sort of like, getting in the way of it all.