Editorial

Civic Advocacy: A Brief Primer

Build relationships, find common ground, and focus on campaigns that are concrete and winnable.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 04, 2008

If you want to effect change, you need to form real relationships with people in an actual organization that meets in person and hashes out strategies to make its case in the community, the local media, city staff, and politicians.

As an example of what I mean, I humbly offer Hamilton Light Rail, of which I am one of several founding members. When we formed a little over a year ago, LRT was off the radar. We started holding monthly ad hoc planning meetings open to anyone, and over several months put together a strategy of reaching out to community groups, business associations, city staff, councillors, and so on to make our case for light rail.

In combination with a few dedicated people inside government (including the mayor), we managed to convince Public Works staff to start a feasibility study that compared bus rapid transit, the existing rapid transit plan, with proposed light rail.

By the time they released their initial report in April 2007, the local news media had noticed and were starting to provide coverage.

We organized a public presentation and panel discussion for May 1 with a spokesperson from HLR, a manager from the city's Public Works department, and a planner from Waterloo Region. To our delight and amazement, it was attended by over 120 enthusiastic citizens who came prepared with questions, challenges and anecdotes of their own experiences with light rail in other cities.

Many of their comments made it into the city's public outreach efforts, which ultimately garnered over 1,600 responses, almost universally in support of rapid transit and light rail in particular.

Since then we've kept at it with monthly meetings, more community outreach, op-eds, letters, media interviews, reporting, and so on.

We're probably going to organize another public presentation some time in the near future as the Metrolinx budget shapes up.

Finding Common Ground

An important lesson for me was that the way to achieve success is not through opposition and conflict but through building relationships and finding common ground with the people you're trying to convince.

We decided to make our case for light rail on the basis of economic development because it's supported by very robust empirical evidence and it's an argument everyone can get behind without having to 'lose face' or concede some kind of ideological defeat.

To be honest, the case for light rail practically makes itself. Aside from the physical work of doing the background research, preparing our slide show, contacting community and business groups, arranging meetings, showing our presentation, and so on, it hasn't been a difficult 'sell'. Everywhere we've gone, we have been received positively.

Again, I think that has a lot more to do with light rail in itself than with our efforts to promote it. You'd have to be pretty spectacularly inept or cleverly diabolical to make light rail look bad.

Focus on Winnable Campaigns

There's another lesson in here: if you want to achieve success, start or join a campaign that's concrete and winnable. To put it bluntly, certain elements of Hamilton's activist community seem to have gotten pretty comfortable with losing - with being on the morally superior side of an issue in a hopeless stance of reactive opposition. That may be comforting in an identity politics kind of way, but it doesn't lead to tangible gains.

I don't want to overthrow the system; I want to make it work better. Radical politics may be personally gratifying for radicals but it almost never improves people's lives. Instead of maintaining some kind of ideological purity, work at building relationships with people across the various divides (urban/exurban, liberal/conservative, business/labour, etc.) that cleave our city, trying to understand and respect everyone's values and priorities, and looking for issues and arguments on which you can all agree.

For example, environmentalists and poverty advocates joined up with the Chamber of Commerce in 2006 in a campaign to stop council from raising HSR transit fares. It was simple, empirical, broad-based, and successful.

In fact, the city dodged a repeat campaign in late 2007 by rushing the introduction of the fare increase recommendation to the Public Works Committee on a Monday and ratifying it in council just two days later. (They may be planning to follow the same strategy this year.)

You Can Persuade People

Better transit, higher quality integrated affordable housing, new investment into poor neighbourhoods, safer streets and pedestrian crossings, continuous bike lanes, tree plantings, community gardens and so on: these are the kinds of issues on which you can make a strong case from evidence, build broad support across socioeconomic and partisan lines, and achieve success.

Environment Hamilton has enjoyed some remarkable successes in such cooperative partnerships, from the Tonnes for Trees campaign a few years ago to the north end transit study (which led to the new Wellington/Victoria bus loop) and the current Kirkendall walkability study.

As a result, they have a lot of credibility with city staff and councillors, which you need to have if you want to be taken seriously since they are the very people who prepare recommendations and vote on them, respectively. (Disclosure: I worked for Environment Hamilton part-time for a year as their Transit Users Group coordinator.)

Even the most obstinant councillors will respond to a strong argument backed by strong public support. You can convince Lloyd Ferguson that light rail is a smart, worthwhile investment in economic development. You can persuade Terry Whitehead that two-way street conversions help create safer, more vibrant neighbourhoods.

But to do so, you need to organize passionate advocates, make your case to the community, attract the attention of the newsmedia, and build relationships with the people who form policies and make decisions.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

28 Comments

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By Whiner (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 12:11:33

Gee, I dunno Ryan. Sounds like a lot of work to me. Can't I just write my fav bitches here instead?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 17:19:38

This was a really informative and insightful article. Besides updating us on current developments, perhaps RTH could also highlight ideas that could benefit from additional support so that individuals who want to make a difference, but arne't really "idea people" have some way to get in touch with the idea people? Hamilton probably has two few groups like Hamilton Light Rail, and too many corporate swindlers looking to pull the wool over city council's eyes. Let's even up the lobbying playing field, shall we?

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 20:07:16

Yes I agree that the grassroots groups can be an effective part for change. But part of the change is to inform others that the political divide between party lines, as this division is part of the problem, when the voices of the people go unheard by the perspective parties.

Ryan: What you failing to see is that many in our community are struggling and while there has been some allowing of the voices of the people to participate, the voices from the people is still falling on deaf ears.

Look at the grandparents from ROCK, when it was the City itself that initiated the direct following of the letter of the law, yet now, we have our Mayor, saying he will write the province. As the voices from those that struggle is getting louder.

Radical, well did not those, workers, as in the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 be considered radical in today's standards? What are the people left with, when their voices go unheeded or unheard?

I guess I have to offer the following: You got paid to be an co-ordinator, why did you not volunteer, if the issue was so important? There are many in this community, those that struggle who volunteer for many things and do not expect to get paid. A little bit of hyprocrisy, maybe??????????

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2008 at 22:11:38

Grassroots,

It certainly wasn't my intention to offend in writing this piece, yet I seem to have touched a sore spot, given the defensiveness of your response.

Ryan: What you failing to see is that many in our community are struggling and while there has been some allowing of the voices of the people to participate, the voices from the people is still falling on deaf ears.

My experience over the past few years of becoming more politically engaged is that these issues aren't so much divided into good guys and bad guys but rather into people and groups with conflicting goals and agendas, which are usually exacerbated by significant power differentials between the groups.

A major goal of community organizing is to redress that power imbalance - to give citizens the power to get noticed, be heard and effect change. Lasting change, in turn, can often (if not always) be achieved by reconciling competing interests rather than by perpetuating conflict.

I know many people are struggling and lack a voice in issues that affect them. The whole point of community organizing is that people building a network of relationships and working together can become a source of power to match the power of money and political connections.

Look at the grandparents from ROCK, when it was the City itself that initiated the direct following of the letter of the law, yet now, we have our Mayor, saying he will write the province.

I'm familiar with ROCK - we posted a news item about them on October 28: http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1134/

I think their work is very valuable, and if they keep at it - keep campaigning, keep growing their membership, keep reaching out to the broader community for support, keep the momentum up and the pressure on the government, and so on - I expect they will be eventually achieve a workable solution.

However, I haven't heard that it was the city complaining about grandparents collecting temporary care assistance money for more or less permanent child care arrangements. If you have more information on this, I'd be interested to hear it.

A little bit of hyprocrisy, maybe??????????

As your your accusation that I'm being hypocritical: are you kidding me? Among my commitments and activities, I work a full-time job to help support my family, I volunteer with HLR as an organizer and secretary, and I write for and publish RTH without pay.

I'm only one person, and there's a limit to how much I can do without it burning me out or impacting my relationships with my family and friends. I'm not going to apologize because I don't also volunteer to run the Transit Users Group on my own time, much as I consider it to be a valuable endeavour. Frankly, I take some issue with your presumption in this regard.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 22:29:00

Ryan: As far as ROCK, it was the spectator that reported that the city followed the letter of the law. I guess you do not want to look at the truth, that those, grandparents who live on limited retirement funds, where thwarted by the city, as they, the city pursued the letter of the law. I mean if you are going to give a voice to the people at least be informed and give reliable information.

I think it was my words that actually touched a sore spot in you, not the other way around.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2008 at 23:32:40

Grassroots wrote:

it was the spectator that reported that the city followed the letter of the law

Really? After searching the spec archives, I can find two articles about ROCK: the column by Tom Cooper that I referenced in my Oct. 28 piece and a news report published a day later:

http://www.thespec.com/article/456682 http://www.thespec.com/article/457305

Both articles identify the provincial government as the agent denying funding to these grandparents, though the second reports on the Mayor getting interested in the issue.

If you have another reference - either to the Spec or to a different publication - that supports your claim, I'd be happy to see it. As I've written several times, one of the strengths of community media is wide participation. If you find our information is incorrect or incomplete, please set the record straight instead of just complaining.

I think it was my words that actually touched a sore spot in you, not the other way around.

After accusing me of hypocrisy in your first comment, that's pretty rich.

But guess what: I'm not doing this dance with you any more. I've alreday had more than enough of what Freud so aptly called "the narcissism of small differences".

This competitive identity politics - your issue is not as important and/or radical as mine - is exactly why the progressive left has been so spectacularly unsuccessful over the past few decades at bringing about positive change.

We're so busy attacking each other for being insufficiently pristine and ideologically pure that we don't have time to advocate for tangible improvements in social justice and community development.

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By Cedric A (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 00:13:08

^^ Ha ha guy reads article about how people have more power when they work together in groups then criticizes writer for not doing more himself.

Reading comprehension fail right there.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 08:51:40

Ryan: you will have to go back further in the archives as it was reported that it was the city itself that initiated the complete following of the letter of the law. It was also reported that very few communities actually followed the letter of the law, in the cases such as ROCK.

If you go to the poverty blog in the spec, you can read what one of the actual members had to say about the fact that CHCH TV, did not report what the members had to say. So much for community media involvement.

It is also telling that last spring, when Mr Duncan came to Hamilton, that the Chamber of Commerce was calling for all kinds of cuts, such as access to legal aid, no increases to minimum wage and a variety of other things which directly affect those who struggle.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 09:25:03

Grassroots, thanks for offering some more context.

I actually found a piece by Maggie Hughes published in Straight Goods that specifically mentions Hamilton's policies compared to other cities in the province:

http://www.straightgoods.ca/ViewFeature8...

In 2006, Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services suddenly cut off the TCA to most of these grandparents — but not everyone. Some 200 grandparents still retain the supplement.

The grandmothers want to know why some cities in Ontario interpret the law one way and allow the supplement funding, while Hamilton interpreted the directive in a different way, and cut off funding.

MPP Paul Miller got involved and tried to raise the issue in the Ontario Legislature, along with MPP Andrea Horwath. When they did catch the ear of Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur, she decided to level the playing field by changing the wording to make sure all grandparents and other blood relatives would be cut off these funds all across Ontario wherever there is evidence that the temporary arrangement has become permanent.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-06-13 07:21:38

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 09:27:41

There's also a piece in the Toronto Star:

http://register.thestar.com/News/Ontario...

The Ontario government's move to cut off funding for grandparents with temporary custody of their grandchildren was done out of spite, the New Democrats charged today, while likening Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur as a modern day Marie Antoinette.

Hamilton New Democrat Paul Miller first raised the issue of grandparents in Hamilton and Ottawa being cut off from the $200 to $300 in temporary care assistance funding they received each month to help raise their grandchildren.

Meilleur agreed the rules for the funding were not being applied consistently across Ontario, but Miller said the Liberals' fix will only make things worse for grandparents.

"She fixed it, all right," Miller said.

"She changed the wording and now all the grandparents are in a position to be cut off throughout the province."

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-06-13 07:22:00

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 09:30:20

Hamilton Mountain News also carried a piece in September, presumably before the Province stepped in to make the rules "consistent":

http://www.hamiltonmountainnews.com/news...

in early 2006, when the city cut off the Ontario Works temporary care assistance payments that helped them raise their grandkids.

The decision, upheld by a social benefits tribunal, applied a strict interpretation of the Ontario Work Act, finding that the Weavers had effectively become their grandkids' parents and were therefore ineligible.

Only the City of Ottawa shares Hamilton's interpretation. Other Ontario municipalities take a more generous reading of the law and continue to provide benefits in such cases.

Ms. Weaver says she wonders how Hamilton can set a goal of making itself, in its own words, "the best place to raise a child" while cutting payments that ultimately go to her grandkids.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-06-13 07:22:18

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By Tired of this (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 11:43:13

Wow "Grassroots are the way forward" you want people to get more involved and then when someone does you crap all over them and call them a hypocrite. Jeez I can't figure out why your not having more success with your own campaigns your such a supportive people person.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2008 at 14:06:02

Robert D wrote:

This was a really informative and insightful article. Besides updating us on current developments, perhaps RTH could also highlight ideas that could benefit from additional support so that individuals who want to make a difference, but arne't really "idea people" have some way to get in touch with the idea people?

That's a really good idea. There are some resources out there listing the various groups and causes. You can find some in the RTH links page:

http://raisethehammer.org/article/18/

You can also get on a weekly mailing list of events, meetings and so on through Act Locally:

http://www.actlocally.info/

Hamilton Eco-Net is a good resource for environmental groups:

http://www.hamiltoneconet.ca/

The Spectator's Poverty Project blog has a good list of anti-poverty organizations:

http://poverty.thespec.com/

I hope this helps as a preliminary list.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 14:47:57

Ryan,

I think those lists you gave me have resulted in a bit of information overload. Many of those groups don't seem to be active now, or haven't been for years. Additionally there are just so many listed that it's hard to figure out wihch has the kind of good reputation with the city that this article suggests, and which are more "radical" as the article says and unlikely to get things done?

Maybe some future spotlight articles on some of the organizations you think can do the most good would help? I would ask you to just recommend some now, but I'm sure there it would be better to have some detailed articles on a few of the groups that have the most potential to truly improve the quality of life in Hamilton. They could definitely use the publicity, and the help.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 22:59:04

Robert D:

One group that has been active in Hamiton is the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disablity Benefits. This group put on an all mayor candiates debate for the election in Hamilton, they also put on a forum for the last provincial electon, in which they had a representation for each of the parties running, the focus was on poverty. The group has been involved in Community Gardens, various members have spoken at many forums, the majority of the members are low income. They are current working on a Peer to Peer project.

Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits meets every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at First Pilgrams Church from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Go out and meet the members, they are a lively bunch. One can find information about this group on otherside.ca.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 23:03:20

Robert D: Sorry but it is oside.cs

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 12:45:02

Ryan,

I wanted to ask you something off topic - why havent I been seeing any articles on this website about "peak oil" lately?

Does the fact that oil has dropped 60% have something to do with it?

How do you account for your oil price predictions?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:11:23

Capitalist,

If I recall correctly, we've already had this discussion not long ago.

A primary prediction of peak oil theory is that constrained supply causes the price of oil to keep rising until it destroys so much demand by causing the economy to recede that the price of oil falls again amid a general recession.

Eventually, the low oil price triggers a new wave of growth that once again crashes against the hard limit to production, and the see-saw of spiking oil prices and slowing demand repeats itself.

What we have observed over the past year coincides exactly with the "bumpy plateau" that peak oil theory predicts.

Oil production has been stalled at around 85 million bpd for the past few years, and oil prices rose steadily as the marginal cost of producing an additional barrel of oil became prohibitive.

Note that during the tremendous run-up in oil prices over the first half of the year, supplies did not significantly increase as they would have if the price increase were 'merely' speculative (in fact, a strong case can be made that speculation actually smoothed some of the volatility in oil prices).

The economy slowed, stalled, and went into a recession and demand for oil actually fell in the industrialized world for the first time since the 1970s OPEC shocks.

Now western economies are in full recession and demand for oil is still falling. This is reflected in the falling oil price (supply and demand is basic economics).

Once the recession runs its course and the economy picks up again, I expect we'll see the same general pattern repeat itself - growing demand against a tightening supply, rising oil prices that lead to a super-spike and another economic slowdown as those high prices once again destroy demand.

This cycle won't end until we manage to wean our economy off its dependence on oil.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:26:57

Addendum to my last comment - just to dispel any claim that I'm engaging in some historical revisionism, here are a few direct, extended quotes from prior articles I've written for RTH on peak oil.

On May 16, 2005, I wrote:

"The next five or ten years will offer extreme price volatility for energy, particularly oil and natural gas, as demand bangs repeatedly off the production peak and then crashes under grueling price spikes."

http://raisethehammer.org/article/087

On June 16, 2005, I wrote:

"Nearly every reserve assessment not based on suspect USGS data puts the peak somewhere between now and 2010. In fact, there likely won't be a discrete peak per se. It will probably stretch over several years as volatile prices squash demand periodically. We appear to be entering that jagged plateau now, as described by analysts at Goldman-Sachs and CIBC World Markets. ... [T]he global economy, powered as it is by cheap, abundant oil, will inevitably go haywire as the supply starts to contract."

http://raisethehammer.org/article/112

On August 22, 2005, I wrote:

"[I]f the oil infrastructure can continue bringing oil to market fast enough to meet market demand, then the economy will continue to tick along as it has. If, however, the rate of oil production maxes out but demand keeps growing, then the price of oil will keep rising until it gets high enough to push demand down to what the industry can provide. ... So far, rising oil prices haven't brought on a recession in North America, but there are plenty of reasons to suspect that growth here must stall sooner or later."

http://raisethehammer.org/article/136

What I predicted three and a half years ago is, of course, exactly what we observed this past year.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:47:52

Ryan,

So let me get this straight.

Oil price go up = "Peak oil"
Oil prices go down = "Peak oil"

i.e. tails you win - heads I lose.

Should I not then be seeing articles on this website about how "peak oil" has predicted the current decline. Why haven't you been trumpeting the current decline if it advances "peak oil" the way you did when the price broke throught $100 dollars per barrel.

This "peak oil" theory is set up in such a way that your asses are proteced should oil prices fall. Kind of like how "global warming" is now referred to as "climate change" to protect all the enviro nuts should the earth not warm and in fact get colder.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 16:18:44

capitalist, im not sure anyone ever said peak oil = ever increasing prices.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 16:33:03

Capitalist,

You're attacking a straw man. I'm not saying anything as trite as, "oil prices go up, oil prices go down."

I'm saying that:

  1. The global rate of oil production cannot increase indefinitely, but has a geological limits that we have already reached - around 85 million bpd.

  2. When the maximum global rate of oil production is reached, oil prices increase until enough demand is destroyed to match the supply. This price increase can be quite dramatic due to the prohibitive marginal cost of increasing production beyond the global limit.

  3. That dynamic manifests in the economy as dramatically increasing oil prices that cause demand to slow, stagnate and then fall as the economy goes into recession.

  4. Once the demand falls back below supply, the price drops back down. Eventually, the recession runs its course and low oil prices trigger a new wave of demand growth, causing the cycle to repeat.

This is the "bumpy plateau" of peak oil, and it's entirely consistent with what we have observed in oil prices and the economy over the past few years.

If you are aware of another economic theory that does a better job of predicting and explaining the run-up and collapse in oil prices, I'd like to hear it.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2008 at 03:06:45

Ryan, I offer to you my simplistic theory of balance to explain recent oil price (which are in US dollars) movements.

The Iraq war (which war was largely about securing cheap oil for the US economy) started in mid 2003. The price of oil began its climb beginning in late 2003.

Is it possible that unintended consequences of trying to get cheap oil actually resulted in the complete opposite result?

Another interesting point to keep in mind is how the US government has been borrowing money recently.

According to the BEA, interest payments on government debt has steadily shifted to entities outside the US.

What this means is that other countries are now paying a greater share of the US government's bills. Here are the numbers...

2001 - 82.4 billion foreign , 261.7 billion domestic.

2002 - 76.6B : 238.5B

2003 - 73.9B : 226.7B

2004 - 82.5B : 226.8B

2005 - 103.9B : 241.4B

2006 - 135B : 241.6B

2007 - 165.1B : 246B

Since nothing is free in life, the American people will pay higher costs for oil if they want to fund their social programs using Chinese savings.

My last point about balance refers to how high oil prices inflict most of their damage to lower income people.

In the 4th qtr of 2006, the Bush government had its highest surplus (when excluding military spending, since that does not directly benefit the average person) since 2001.

This means that the average US citizen was paying x in taxes and only receiving x - 2.68% back in useful services (minus interest payments).

Curiously enough, oil prices fell from 77 to around 50 as this larger surplus was being produced.

Since that time, the surplus has shrunk to a deficit, a result of ever increasing handouts to people, based on the theory that spending money that isn't yours will help generate economic growth.

The result of all this free money has been pain, primarily in the form of higher oil and gas prices, but also in food and other basic staples.

More recently, as the government has shifted its support to the corporate sector (bank bailouts), oil prices have been coming down considerably.

Once again this can be seen as balance in action, since debt attributed to corporations does nothing to directly help the average person.

What the government takes from the people on the one hand (by increasing their outstanding debt), the universe gives back to the people on the other (in the form of lower oil prices).

Lastly, I predict that if another large stimulus package comes in aimed at the average person, you will likely see another spike in oil prices, all other things being equal. Nothing in life is free.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 14, 2008 at 10:55:14

A Smith wrote:

The Iraq war (which war was largely about securing cheap oil for the US economy)

I think that's a bit oversimplistic. The Iraq war was a confluence of several different motivations that appealed to different sectors of the US power structure, including:

  • Removing a former client who had become unmanageable
  • Reviving Iraq's stalled oil production in anticipation of peak oil
  • Getting Iraq's oil in the hands of American corporations
  • Getting Iraq back on the petrodollar system
  • Eliminating a government Israel regarded as a threat

Heck, a few people in the government probably even believed Iraq still had WMD.

It seems safe to conclude one major purpose of the Iraq war was to bring Iraq's oil production back online. People inside the oil industry recognized in 2000 that peak oil was on its way (this may well be the content of much of VP Dick Cheney's still-classified Energy Task Force) and without Iraq's oil, prices would be likely to rise rapidly over the decade.

However, US policy throughout the 1990s and into the Bush administration was that the sanctions against Iraq would never be lifted as long as Saddam was still in power (a straightforward violation of UNSCR 687, by the way) and the US had scuttered the inspections process in 1998 when UNSCOM and IAEA were about to sign off on Iraq's prohibited weapons.

The Oil for Food program got at least some Iraqi oil back on stream (and provided some nice kickbacks for people connected to the US oil industry), but it was clearly not a tenable situation. For one thing, Saddam was getting his hands on some of the money, which actually bolstered his power since the Iraqi public were dependent on the government for basic life support.

For another, Iraq had decided it would sell its oil for euros instead of dollars. That was giving other OPEC countries (e.g. Iran and Syria) some funny ideas and could potentially undermine the petrodollar system, which requires oil importing countries to buy oil for dollar-denominated securities. This, in turn, guarantees an international market for dollars so the US can run large current accounts deficits with impunity.

The only way out was to get rid of Saddam altogether, privatize Iraq's oil, sell it to American companies, restore the petrodollar system, and install a friendly client government.

Mission accomplished, but they seem to have underestimated the potential for resistance movements to disrupt the flow of oil and scare away private investment. Over five years later, Iraq's oil production barely matches what it did before the invasion - so much for the invasion paying for itself.

Is it possible that unintended consequences of trying to get cheap oil actually resulted in the complete opposite result?

There may be some truth to that, but recall that oil prices have followed a similar curve in the other industrialized countries, so the price is not just an artifact of US currency policy.

Curiously enough, oil prices fell from 77 to around 50 as this larger surplus was being produced.

I don't see any causal connection to tie the two. As I've pointed out before, your theory of "balance" relies on some kind of mysical universal imperative, which is unpersuasive as a description of economic events.

It makes more sense to me to look at the balance of supply and demand over the past several years. Not only does it offer a strong, well-supported causal correlation in terms of how the two interact, but also it correlates much more finely with the actual observed price of oil.

If demand for a product increases and the supply does not increase to match the growing demand, the price will go up until some buyers are priced out of the market and enough demand is destroyed that supply and demand match.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2008 at 17:08:53

Ryan, I understand you discounting the "mystical" nature of my theory regarding balance, but keep an open mind.

In 1971, Richard Nixon was concerned about rising prices. At the time, inflation was around 3%, but after the government imposed wage and price controls, inflation spiked above 12 % and would average 9% over the next decade.

As soon as price controls were lifted in 1981, inflation dropped to around 2% in a year.

The same counter intuitive effect has happened with tax rates. As top marginal rates have fallen from 70% (under Carter) to the current 35%, the share of taxes paid by the top 1 % have risen from 19% to 40% (2006).

During this same time period, the bottom 95% of taxpayers have seen their share of taxes paid fall from 63% to 40%.

If this isn't an argument for balance I don't know what is.

High taxes are supposed to result in more money from the rich and yet the opposite is true. How do you explain this?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 14, 2008 at 17:58:23

A Smith wrote

Since nothing is free in life, the American people will pay higher costs for oil if they want to fund their social programs using Chinese savings.

Hilarious that you would single out social programs. So is there a secret memo somewhere? "Hey Beijing. You fund the social programs, we'll cover the tax cuts and Iraq and Afghanistan".

Bonus Friday Night Troll Recipe:

Dirty Martini

2 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire 1/2 oz scotch (Seriously. Normally you'd use whiskey in a mixed drink, but the dirty martini is the one time you want to break out the single malt.) garlic stuffed olive

Now lay back and think of the Chicago School.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2008 at 20:51:30

Highwater, let me put it another way...

If the American people want the Chinese to fund their military, allowing them to spend more on social programs then they otherwise would be able to, then they will have to pay a price for that (which I think explains the dollar drop and subsequent rise in oil prices).

Is that better?

As to your point about funding tax cuts, what does that mean? Does cutting tax rates cost money?

Under Carter, tax rates on the rich were 70% and government revenue was 28.92% of GDP.

Under Bush II, top marginal rates are 35% and taxes comprise 30.42% of GDP (2007).

Lower tax rates have increased the money government brings in.

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By Dave (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 18:50:23

Ryan you seem to be attracting more than your fair share of cranks! :-)

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