Left TurnThe recent surprise election results in the UK and the province of Alberta, Canada have triggered a fair bit of reflection on my part.  When combined with what I have been observing in the political commentary amongst some of my Facebook friends it seemed to be an appropriate time to compose a letter to my friends on the left side of the political spectrum.

As always, labels are dangerous things, however when using terms such as “left” and “right” in politics it is always wise to define what is meant by the terms.  In my case, left is roughly categorized by those who care deeply for the poor and marginalized in society, women’s reproductive rights, the “working man/woman”, strong government involvement in things, pro-union and anti-capitalist.  Correspondingly the right would be described as those who are passionate about personal property ownership and rights, minimal government intervention, pro-capitalism, low taxes, the rights of the unborn, free enterprise and anti-union.  I realize these are generalizations but necessary to roughly define some boundaries for the terms.  With this out of the way, let’s begin.

Dear friends on the Left,

It truly is breathtaking to see the gains being made in various jurisdictions by the parties that represent your viewpoint.  In Alberta, the recent convincing win of the NDP (New Democratic Party) was more than breathtaking for those on the right who had been in power for over 40 years but more like a punch below the belt.  Those of us (like me) who grew up and entered the workforce in the 70’s and 80’s thought we would never see this day coming.  It has clearly arrived with a jolt.

You see, many of us reacted strongly to the pro-union environment that existed in our formative years.  Being held back from progressing by those “more senior” than us for no other reason than they had been around longer was extremely irritating.  Many of those with higher seniority barely managed a full work day while us junior folks did the menial tasks for a much lower salary.  Also, in my case, I learned the hard way that everyone went on strike to protect the senior brothers and sisters from losing rights and privileges only to find out that this wasn’t the case when junior workers were laid off during hard times.  In fact, it barely caused a ripple when we got our pink slips in 1982.  Many of us decided at the time that despite your warnings, we were more than willing to pit our work ethic and skills against others in management or non-union environments without the protection of seniority clauses.  Many of us did and excelled in our careers.

In the 80’s, government deficits were no big deal.  There was no need to worry about the national or provincial debt since all that needed to be done was to raise taxes…and raise them we did.  Inflation was a big deal in those days as were high interest rates (20% or more as I recall).  Somehow we survived.

Something seemed to shift in the 90’s and into the new millennium.  Governments began to pay more attention to spending and managing deficits, the non-union workforce increased, many jobs began to be sent off-shore to lower wage countries, the dot com and internet boom began and western economies took off.  Fortunes were made on the stock markets and in real estate.  The shift to the right was on in earnest.  Many on the left suffered (as did their causes).  While there were a few left leaning governments, they tended to be short-lived.  It seemed that the “good times” would last forever.

Unfortunately, all apparent good things come to an end and this trend was no different.  As is usually the case, human greed came into play and significant issues developed.  Income disparity between those in executive positions and the average worker continued to grow. Outright fraud in various get rich quick investment schemes became all too frequent, hurting many.  Computerization brought us “day traders”, “high frequency traders” and “currency speculators” who added no value to the economy, simply profiting from playing the markets like a poker game.  The generation that followed mine became disenchanted with the greed of their parents and were looking for change.  Movements like Occupy took on the cause of the 99% groaning under the oppression of the 1%.  Capitalism somehow became the enemy of civilization.  All of the excesses and outright immorality of the right were plain to see for anyone who was willing to open their eyes.   (More on all of this in my upcoming letter to my friends on the right).

So as the pendulum swings back to the left, I offer some thoughts for you to ponder.  As you do, it may surprise you to find out that many of us who would identify as “right” on the political spectrum are as disgusted as you are at the excesses we have all witnessed.  As you begin to assume the reigns of power, we sincerely hope you don’t blow the opportunity that has been presented to you.  Please consider the following:

1. All capitalists and free-enterprisers are not evil, in fact many own and operate small businesses.  Do everything you can to support them.

2. Balancing a budget, astute financial management and strategic spending are important. Please don’t take on more debt to spend on every progressive idea that comes to mind.

3. While many of you rightly cite Jesus as one who took up the cause of the poor, the widow and orphan, also remember that he frequently told stories of landowners, stewards and wise investors who made their talents grow.  Jesus refused to be boxed into a political ideology.  He was neither right nor left.

4. By all means, please find and punish those who are greedy, corrupt and exploitive.  Just don’t limit your search to those of a particular political stripe or economic viewpoint.  Human greed and selfishness can be found anywhere.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming “they” are the problem.

5. For those of you who are Jesus followers, don’t make the same mistake as many on the right who assumed the kingdom of God can come through government.  It never has and it never will and much harm has been caused by those who try.

6. Finally, while some of these ideas may look like a slight tack to the right, don’t be afraid to do so.  Holding to an extreme left ideology and demonizing the right may play right into the hands of the power brokers who will exploit the opportunity by sowing fear into the hearts and minds of voters and find a way to hold onto office.  Just look at the UK for an example.

All in all, I wish you well in your time in the spotlight.  You have earned it.  May you embrace this opportunity with wisdom.

John Matthews

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