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Housing bubble

Marcelle Faucher

That "everything is political" is one of the left's hoarier shibboleths. For a long time its most visible Canadian manifestation was on the decidedly pinkish This Magazine, whose tag line read "because everything is political." Lately, the magazine decided to dump the tag, presumably because even that lefty crew thought it was getting just a little stale. All that said, there's still more than a little kick in the old dog yet. Some years ago, Stanley Fish, one of America's more eminent and loquacious public brainiacs, had this to say about the merits of the old saw:

"...there is more than a little truth to the assertion. Everything is political in the sense that any action we take or decision we make or conclusion we reach rests on assumptions, norms, and values not everyone would affirm. That is, everything we do is rooted in a contestable point of origin; and since the realm of the contestable is the realm of politics, everything is political."

And yet in the realm of "free market" economic theory this notion is hardly taken for granted. Last weekend the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from former U.S. treasury secretary Hank Paulson's new book. In it Paulson writes of john McCain's ill starred decision to suspend his 2008 presidential campaign in order to return the Washington to "focus on the financial crisis":

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"We'd devised TARP to save the financial system. Now it had become all about politics - presidential politics. I wondered what McCain could have been thinking. Calling a meeting like this when we didn't have a deal was playing with dynamite."

McCain's obvious idiocy in this specific matter notwithstanding (and it was considerable), you'd think from the way Paulson's talking that asking a few "political" questions about a dead-of-night decision to bail out a bunch of investment bankers to the tune of $700-billion dollars was akin to querying the first law of thermodynamics. The economic arrangements that put millions of Americans out of a job and/or out of their homes "rests on assumptions, norms, and values not everyone would affirm."

And when Canada's economic reckoning arrives - and it will - and John McCallum or Jim Flaherty talk about the "inevitability" of cuts to social and cultural spending it would do well to remember Stanley Fish's formulation.

(Illustration by Marcelle Faucher for The Globe and Mail)

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