Dan Leger hates his readers

Chronicle-Herald content czar no fan of unions, either


There are lots of reasons why the daily newspaper industry is collapsing, but one is simply this: They hate their readers.

I mean, why should average people choose to pay for something that insults them at every turn? But time and again, daily newspapers are siding with the comfortable over the afflicted, the bosses over the workers, the rich over the struggling, so it’s no wonder the afflicted, the workers and the struggling---that is, most people---aren’t interested in buying a newspaper.

Take, for instance, this morning’s piece in the Chronicle-Herald by editor Dan Leger, which pretty much slaps working people right upside the head.

Leger starts his diatribe with by citing a study by the Fraser Institute, which Leger says is “an organization often unfairly tossed off as a "right-wing think tank." How, exactly, is truthfully naming the Fraser Institute unfair? Leger doesn’t say. But, for the record, the Fraser institute is funded by the crazy American right-wing John Templeton Institute (“God’s Venture Capitalist”), the scary American right-wing Sarah Scaife Foundation (the “Funding Father of Right”) and the corporate incarnation of Satan, ExxonMobile. Predictably, the Fraser Institute has come down solidly on the right-wing side of every issue it looks at, a fact that is disputed by exactly zero humans. Back in the day, newspaper people called things by their proper names, but for Leger, this is “unfair”; maybe that’s another reason daily newspaper readers are abandoning ship---the editors use bullshit logic to obscure the truth.

Regardless, Leger’s starting point is a Fraser Institute report that finds that Nova Scotia is, in Leger’s words, “a productivity laggard.”

“Productivity” is such a nice-sounding word, all positive-y and warm-feeling, but when bandied about by the right, it doesn’t mean anything good at all. They imply that productivity means getting the most out of your efforts, but more often than not in the modern economy, it actually means simply cutting costs, no matter what the result. Take, for instance, the Chronicle-Herald newsroom. Last year, Leger and company slashed the reporting staff by 24 positions---about a 25 percent reduction in the workforce. So, from one day to the next, there was a 25 percent improvement in productivity. According to productivity-pushers like the Fraser Institute, this was a good thing, but that’s so narrow a metric as to be nonsensical: Does anyone think the Chronicle-Herald is a better paper having laid off a quarter of its news gatherers? Are we getting better reporting because of the layoffs? Is the paper of record extending its coverage because it has fewer people looking into things?

No, of course not. “Productivity” doesn’t happen in a vacuum, except for in the vacuum between the ears of people who know the value of nothing outside the quarterly corporate return. In the real world, there are real tasks that need to be completed---news has to be gathered, fisheries have to be protected, children have to be taught. Yes, you can improve some perverted sense of “productivity” by doing things half-assed, or not doing them at all, but very often you have to spend more money, not less, to do the jobs right. You have to become less “productive” in order to be truly productive. You have to allocate resources appropriate to the task at hand.

It’s true that we have a lot of tasks at hand in Nova Scotia, partly because in the past we followed the logic of senseless productivity. We were getting a lot of fish from the ocean, so we’d improve productivity by getting more fish, and then more still. Very productive, see. Also very stupid, because the fishery couldn’t stand that much productivity, and the whole damn thing collapsed. Civil servants had for years warned that the over-fishing would lead to collapse, but they were overruled by politicians chasing the cheap money of short-term “productive” return. That’s why we’ve now got even more civil servants trying to salvage something of value out of the wreckage and piece together a working fishery that’s a shadow of its past glory. But Leger takes the exact wrong lesson from the saga, when he implies that “it needs fewer people to administer a shrinking fishery.”

As Leger sees it, the problem is public employee unions:

And more than a quarter of your citizens who do work, work for federal, provincial or municipal governments. Most of those workers are unionized, with wage rates, pensions and benefits much higher than those in the private sector. That means that compared to your competitors, you have too many people doing administrative duties and too few producing goods and services.  


With government playing such a dominant role in the labour market, too many of our workers are employed enforcing regulations, collecting taxes and supervising the folks in the private sector who are actually producing goods and services. That is not healthy and probably not sustainable.

See, according to Leger, “administrative duties” of enforcing regulations is not a worthwhile service. Is it possible that Leger missed not only the collapse of the Atlantic fisheries but also the collapse of the entire global economy---both of which were at heart caused by not enough enforcement of regulations?

Sure, sometimes we over-allocate resources to the task at hand. There is waste. But the biggest waste generators are usually found in the cozy hybrid relationships between government and big business. Take, for example, the P3 school scam---a scheme devised to get around public employee unions---which auditor general Jacques Lapoint blasted for losing at least $54 million in value to the taxpayer, and which left children at risk because the schools didn’t check employees against the child abuse registry (no doubt, failing to hire people to check the child abuse registry led to a productivity gain). Lapoint couldn’t even perform an effective audit on the productivity-pushing Nova Scotia Business, Inc. and the Industrial Expansion Fund, because those operations are apparently so corrupt they refused to give him access to their books. Then there’s the good ol’ boy network of big business execs and politicos known as ACOA; the Canadian Press had to resort to Access of Information laws to discover that fully 90 percent of ACOA loans made to technology firms haven’t been repaid.

But the Chronicle-Herald is in the business of pushing the interests of big business, and the part of the managerial class that caters to it, over the interests of the workers and taxpayers, so instead of calling for a full inquiry into the P3 schools or the workings of NSBI, it instead bashes unions.

Bashing unions is common practice nowadays, and it would take the rest of the week to write a proper response to the various insults thrown their way, so I was quite pleased this morning when, after reading Leger’s screed, I found a new post on Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone blog. Taibbi was expressing anger at a sports commentator in the states named Colin Cowherd who was dissing workers who dare ask for higher wages because those workers are “replaceable.” Says Taibbi:

...Almost everyone who has a job is economically "replaceable," but shit, outside an Ayn Rand novel, there's more to it than that. Does it make economic sense to fire the auto worker who mangles his hand in the factory machinery and bring in a younger guy with all his fingers? How about the secretary who refuses to fuck the boss, isn't she replaceable? Couldn't we put her ungrateful ass out on the street and bring in another, hotter girl to do the same job at the same price? How about a teacher who refuses to pass his failing students on to the next class? How about the worker on the oil rig who complains about his company's safety procedures? The aforementioned steelworker who gets a little too old and becomes too much of a liability to the company health plan? The government civil servant who turns whistleblower?   

Yes, Colin, you spoiled little fuckhead, we can replace all of these people. [...]   

But we don't always replace them, because some people in our past spent generations fighting to push us up above the level of savages. Unions aren't perfect, and they don't always pick the right causes to fight for, but they have to exist precisely because the vast majority of workers are replaceable, which is to say not special, which is to say vulnerable. Not that Cowherd would have any reason to know this, but that's what a "job" is, as opposed to what he and I both have, careers -- a job always involves shelving your own personal creativity and ambition to at least some degree, in order to push someone else's idea along for a while.   

Measuring people by how much numerical wealth they produce is a kind of psychopathy -- it's that kind of thinking that led to Larry Summers famously saying that African countries are "underpolluted," because poisoning people in low-GDP African states makes less sense than poisoning the relatively more economically productive citizens of Western countries in Europe and America.  

That kind of thinking is spreading, because our pop culture priests have succeeded in filling the population with shame and nervous self-loathing to the point where they think of anyone who isn't an employer as a parasite, and anyone who isn't rich and famous, or trying to be, as a loser. People even think of themselves this way, which is why there are so many down-and-out people voting to give tax breaks to the same bankers who've been robbing them for years, and booing when the mere concept of unions shows up for a few seconds in a football game. It's sad, and a lot of it's the fault of mean little assholes like Cowherd. Shame on him.

In the end, you pick who you cast your lot with. In Leger’s case, he’s on the side that wants to impoverish his readers.

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