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LETTER: Moral choices not about profit

From reader Charles Jeanes

Re: “Nationalism a key variable in post-COVID-19 world,” April 23

“Historical experience is not encouraging,” writes retired professor emeritus Robert Malcolmson in his letter. Being an historian (without such a distinguished career) I take his essay as opportunity to rebound from his remarks, on nationalism, the U.N., and government action.

I too struggle to be hopeful, having studied world history, and I’d love to see humanity learning lessons from the present pandemic. I regard the U.N. as a hopeful ideal for better global co-ordination of human efforts in health, economics, climate policy, and peacemaking. I grasp the obstacles, and national egoism in great powers is definitely, as Malcolmson says, a major one.

Security from threats has been a compelling reason for the nation-state to monopolize power, and the willing surrender of sovereign authority to the U.N. by world powers seems so improbable that the effort would be better spent on realistic aims.

National ego has not prevented states lowering trade barriers or capital-and-labour flows, and that alerts us to the power of economic decision-makers to set policy: “Free Trade” isn’t a nationalist tenet. Can potent decision-makers in Western corporate economy, or in Putin’s Russia or Xi’s China, be persuaded to let the U.N. rule in political realms? I seriously doubt capitalists in any major power want their state to weaken sovereignty over defence policy for the U.N.

Co-operation among states for health or climate purposes seems reasonable, as it’s been since at least the 1970s. We’ve little to prove we understood the importance of that fact. In our COVID crisis, national populations relied on state authorities for scientifically-intelligent responses, but leaders haven’t agreed what constitutes intelligence. New Zealand: exemplary! America, China, Italy: highly problematic.

Corporate and worker imperatives claim priority even over health; witness popular pressures to “re-open” locked-down economies and “Liberate American business!”

Economics notwithstanding, Canada can best support human survival by extermination of the tar-sands industry. Now’s the perfect opportunity, when Alberta’s industry isn’t functional; let it expire. To the industry’s dependants, I urge: moral choices aren’t made for profit; you must mobilize Albertan economic innovation.

Charles Jeanes