The Politics of Debt Crises

At Campaign for America's Future, Dave Johnson quotes Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine," reminding us that back in 1993 Canada faced its own debt crisis. So dire that when Moodys analyst Vincent Truglia issued a favorable report on the Canadian economy, Truglia says, “one Canadian... from a very large financial institution in Canada called me up on the telephone screaming at me, literally screaming at me.” Why?

... because, for the Canadian financial community, the “deficit crisis” was a critical weapon in a pitched political battle. At the time Truglia was getting those strange calls, a major campaign was afoot to push the government to lower taxes by cutting spending on social programs such as health and education. Since these programs are supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians, the only way the cuts could be justified was if the alternative was national economic collapse – a full blown crisis. The fact that Moody’s kept giving Canada the highest possible bond rating – the equivalent of an A++ – was making it extremely difficult to maintain the apocalyptic mood.

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By the time Canadians learned that the “deficit crisis” had been grossly manipulated by the corporate-funded think tanks, it hardly mattered – the budget cuts had already been made and locked in. As a direct result, social programs for the country’s unemployed were radically eroded and have never recovered, despite many subsequent surplus budgets. The crisis strategy was used again and again in this period. In September 1995, a video was leaked to the Canadian press of John Snobelen, Ontario’s minister of education, telling a closed-door meeting of civil servants that before cuts to education and other unpopular reforms could be announced, a climate of panic needed to be created by leaking information that painted a more dire picture than he “would be inclined to talk about”. He called it “creating a useful crisis.”

Those who forget the lessons of history...