(This review originally published in the April 2006 issue of Mayday Magazine, used with permission of the author Wey Robinson, an OPIRG McMaster Community member. If you’ve got a review of any of OPIRG McMaster’s Rescource Centre holdings, we welcome your submissions! Be sure to check out our library in MUSC 229, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4:30pm)
Review of “Reclaiming the Canadian Left” by Richard Ziegler
“All truth goes through three stages: first it is ridiculed; then it is violently opposed; and finally it is accepted as self-evident.”
In this compact little book of less than 100 pages, Ziegler boldly challenges conventional thinking about the rich-poor gap and how to deal with poverty. His writing is straightforward and mercifully jargon-free. He will upset and even offend many on the “left” by his thesis that the Canadian left has abandoned one of its main original goals of drastically limiting wealth so as to achieve something close to income equality.
The bulk of the book is in the three middle chapters which show the inadequacy of many contemporary social movements, of labour unions and of the anti-poverty movement itself in realizing true economic justice for all–in fact, all of these may be seen as obstacles to equality.
He argues convincingly that if you are not willing to put severe limits on how much wealth an individual or corporation can accumulate, you cannot be serious about ending poverty.
As there is in his view no existing movement, institution or political party promoting income redistribution, it is necessary to create a new party to advocate for true equality.
For me as a long-time activist in anti-poverty work among tenants and social assistance recipients, one of the most interesting sections is on the anti-poverty movement, detailing the many reasons why most people (whether or not they would publicly acknowledge this) prefer to maintain it because of the many advantages to the rest of us. Among these is the whole “poverty industry” of bureaucrats, social agencies including food banks, disability services, academic researchers and so forth whose living depends on the poor.
At best, these would favour bringing the poor up to the so-called poverty line, which is still well below a liveable income
Then there are the vast number of for-profit services and companies which exploit and live off the poor, such as payday loan shops and easy credit for mortgages to poor credit risks which has led to the housing and prime mortgage crisis in the U.S..which has also rocked some Canadian banks. I have been unable to find any serious research in Canada and very little in the U.S into the poverty industry and I hope this book may stimulate some–it is very much needed.
Locally, to counter the reputation Hamilton has acquired as the Ontario city with the highest poverty rate, the Hamilton Community Foundation has partnered with City Hall in creating a Round Table for Poverty Reduction. The Round Table is chaired by Mark Chamberlain, recently named Hamilton’s “Citizen of the Year”, who is also chair of the Foundation and chair of city council’s new business advisory group. To many in the anti-poverty movements, including this writer, it appears that the Round Table is little more than an attempt to manage the public perception of poverty without seriously addressing its causes, so as not to deter local business expansion and new investment
The author is not an academic. He is a political and social researcher who has been a career civil servant with the federal government and who quit in order to have time to write this book
It is my hope that the book gets wide distribution and generates a serious discussion of the issues Ziegler raises.
“Reclaiming the Canadian Left” is available from the author through his website–www.richardziegler.ca–by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him in Ottawa at 613-234-1808. The cost of the book including mailing is $21.00