12 August 2014

The Shared Delusion #nlpoli

Tom Marshall is a typical politician.  He got into politics to make things better.

And, as he reaches the end of his political career,  Tom feels a little frustrated or disappointed in how things turned out.  Marshall’s big hopes didn’t turn into equally big results.

So he blames others.

The university campus at Corner Brook was supposed to turn everyone into entrepreneurs.  Instead,  they opposed fracking.

And the opposition parties joined in without “a full appreciation of the science and evidence”  as the Western Star story puts it.

Marshall is baffled too as to why people don’t seem to like Nalcor.  “If Nalcor does well, the people of the province will do well.”  Marshall, can’t understand why people are suspicious of the company or why they view it “as some sort of enemy that they have to be protected against.”

Before we go any further,  everyone will recognise in Tom Marshall’s comments the refrain all provincial Conservatives have relied on.  This is not just a talking point.  This is not just something that Kathy Dunderdale used to say. 

They all say it and all believe it:

Everyone else is dumb. 




Doesn’t matter the topic.  Doesn’t matter the opponent.  Tom and his friends are right.  Everyone else is wrong.

In another variation, things are not working out or things are going badly because those other people  - who we know are wrong, by definition, aren’t just going along as they should.

This is the sort of attitude that leads people to make bad decisions.  Some of you will recall the discussion of this some time ago, specifically about Muskrat Falls.  When you think you and your geniuses are the only people who could possibly be right, then odds are high you are going to go wrong.  Not only are you ignoring potentially valuable criticism,  you are leaving yourself open to accepting wrong ideas because you have already decided what’s right and what’s wrong before knowing what the information is.

The sort of delusional thinking Marshall displays is really obvious when he talks about Nalcor.  He can’t understand why people want some protection against what Nalcor is doing since we all do well if Nalcor does well.

Well even if that is true – and it is arguably not true -   Marshall clearly has blocked out the completely logical and rational flip side of his simple construction. Just as we all do well if Nalcor does well, then we can all get royally screwed if Nalcor doesn’t do well.  Tom Marshall may have complete faith that Nalcor will only succeed, but the rest of us might have some legitimate reason for needing a hedge against failure.

It’s telling, though, that Marshall only gives half the equation.  And then dismisses everyone who doesn;t believe as he does.

In a wider sense, though, you can also see the fundamental contradiction between Marshall’s endorsement of Nalcor on the one hand and his lament that we haven’t seen more “entrepreneurship” on the other. When Marshall and his colleagues looked at how the province could develop the energy sector, they very obviously picked a government-owned corporation as their vehicle.  They chose public sector development of the economy over the private sector.  They gifted Nalcor with huge financial and legal advantages over private sector corporations. 

And in the 2008 seizure of private property,  Marshall and his colleagues used the power of the legislature to strip assets away from a local private sector company (Fortis) and an international one (ENEL) solely in order to fatten up Nalcor.  Tom, Danny, and the others wanted to give Nalcor the hydro assets ENEL and Fortis had developed with Abitibi.  When they could not get them through the normal operations of the private sector marketplace, they took them by force.  They denied the companies any  means of compensation that was not dictated by Marshall and his political allies.

The 2008 expropriation was such a naked attack against free enterprise, covered by such obvious deceit, that it is astonishing that Marshall could now wonder why the private sector hasn’t bloomed in the province. If that wasn’t bad enough, his own strategy of excessive and unsustainable public sector spending left no room for the private sector to attract private capital and fuel private sector growth. There was no reason for any sensible entrepreneur “to take a chance, to build something, to invest” in a province where Marshall and his colleagues made it clear they were not interested in entrepreneurship and investment that was not their own.

Tom Marshall is not only a typical politician but he is typical of the current crop of politicians running the province.  His end-of-career interviews confirm the extent of the delusion Marshall shares with his colleagues.

Marshall is disappointed that things did not work out as he intended.  Clearly something is wrong.  The problem, though, is not with everyone else in the province but rather with Marshall’s perception of what was going on.  You really couldn’t come up with a set of policies more fundamentally at odds with entrepreneurship than  the ones Tom and his colleagues implemented with the absolute conviction of their own infallibility.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.