BUSINESS WATCH

Culling the autumn book harvest

Free trade launched a new industry of its own, although no one wrote what might have been a best-seller— Sex and Free Trade

Peter C. Newman November 28 1988
BUSINESS WATCH

Culling the autumn book harvest

Free trade launched a new industry of its own, although no one wrote what might have been a best-seller— Sex and Free Trade

Peter C. Newman November 28 1988

Culling the autumn book harvest

BUSINESS WATCH

PETER C. NEWMAN

In the endless debates about the benefits and costs of free trade, the Conservatives kept telling us that we had a limited “window of opportunity” to take the “leap of faith” required. Long before the fate of the U.S.-Canada accord was determined by the election, at least one Canadian industry—book publishing—took its own leap of faith through the window of opportunity and landed profitside-up.

Free trade launched a book industry of its own this fall, with at least two dozen new studies on store shelves. (Though no one produced what might have been the best-seller of them all: Sex and Free Trade) Some of these manifestos were less hysterical than others, but the one sure way for Canadians to multiply their confusion on the issue was to read all the available volumes. Few writers analysed the proposed U.S.-Canada pact with even a pretence of dispassion: it became an issue like abortion or capital punishment, with converts dug in on both sides and no rational argument capable of dislodging them.

John W. Warnock’s Free Trade and the New Right Agenda, a 324-page paperback published by New Star Books in Vancouver, isn’t objective either, but at least the author, who teaches political economy at the University of Regina, meticulously documents his arguments and places free trade in a fresh perspective. Instead of ascribing the Tory initiative to some vague diabolical plot, he shows how it evolved from the Mulroney-Reagan agenda for the 1980s.

The first to recognize free trade as a class issue, Warnock traces in compelling detail how our negotiators moved from demanding an impartial trade dispute tribunal with the power of binding arbitration to a court of last (instead of first) resort with less clout than dispute panels already available under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Like every other oracle on the subject, Warnock offers no viable alternative to free trade, but his analysis rings true.

Some other business-related books featured

this fall have included Lords of the Line, a startlingly good popular history of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths. Concentrating on the six men who dominated 91 years of the company’s 107year history (George Stephen, William Van Horne, Thomas Shaughnessy, Edward Beatty, Buck Crump and Ian Sinclair), the authors successfully recreate those corporate titans “whose power at times even surpassed that of the country’s prime ministers.” Crump, who modernized the railway in the 1950s, was probably the toughest of them, once explaining his negotiating method: “I’ve always made it a practice to meet a guy halfway, but if he doesn’t want to come halfway, then, God damn it, I’ll kick his teeth in, one way or another.”

The strangest of all the CPR presidents was William Neal, who squired his mistress about the system in his private railway car, parking overnight at abandoned sidings. When he went to Jamaica for a holiday, he stayed away two months and finally decided he liked the beaches and their resident bathing beauties so much that he would run the railway from there. Those and other stories in this engrossing chronicle explain why, until recently, “God damn the CPR!” was Canada’s national curse.

Wrong End of the Rainbow, by Eric Kierans and Walter Stewart, is a provocative and intelligent analysis of what is wrong with big business in Canada, documenting the point that “its worst enemies could not create a more vicious image of the capitalist system than its friends do; the image of a band of corporate chiefs sitting around the boardroom plotting to evade the law, to ignore politics, to deny any sort of social responsibility—all in order to promote corporate growth.” The book is stronger on analysis than solutions, but it does advocate a rebirth of industrial capitalism, which would have as its goal “the production of a richer standard of living, the discovery and filling of needs and, in the process, the enrichment of the entrepreneurs.” Wrong End of the Rainbow bristles with pithy insights, including this definition of free trade: “First, we jump off the dock; sooner or later we will discover if there is water down below.”

In The Brass Ring: Power, Influence and the Brascan Empire, Patricia Best and Ann Shortell inaccurately portray a group of corporate raiders so single-minded and money-driven that when one of them comes into a room, the only way to protect yourself would be to run in the other direction. The two dozen men and one woman who run the Brascan empire for Peter and Edward Bronfman may not be saintly, but neither are they the ruthless sinners painted in this demonological recounting of how the $ 120-billion conglomerate came together.

Free trade launched a new industry of its own, although no one wrote what might have been a best-seller—

Sex and Free Trade

Much more deserving of contempt are the boiler-room boys portrayed in Diane Francis’s Contrepreneurs, which starkly sets out the world of stock manipulation and just plain swindling. Her accusation that the Vancouver and Alberta stock exchanges “are often nothing more than gigantic money-laundering vehicles” is well documented, although some of her examples read more like plots for horror movies about runaway capitalism than the true case histories they are. Most disturbing is her contention that Canada is a major transshipment point for narcotics, with 90 per cent of all heroin consumed in the United States flowing through Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Worse, Canada is being increasingly used by the Mafia and other underground groups to launder ill-gotten cash. That is possible because, unlike the Americans, we have no law that demands cash transactions of $10,000 or more be reported by the banks. Hard as it is to believe, there have, until recently, been no regulations against money laundering in Canada, and our banks are an involuntary but essential part of the process. This book is not light reading, but it is an essential and frightening document about the dark side of capitalism.

In nonbusiness publications, the best political book of the year is Jeffrey Simpson’s Spoils of Power, a definitive study of why patronage is truly the pornography of Canadian politics. The most interesting social history is Douglas Fetherling’s The Gold Crusades, which magnificently captures man’s quest of the elusive yellow metal. The best read of 1988 is Peter Gzowski’s evocative memoir, The Private Voice, which captures a remarkable man living a remarkable life.