III. Austerity and The Blocking of Social Citizenship In Ontario

When the Social Commons are enclosed, the state has decreed there are those inside and those outside the political order.

took up the issue of the Social Commons and its enclosure in Part II. This post will attempt to locate those excluded from social citizenship when the Commons is enclosed.

I put it to you that contemporary life has been split between by a “Producer” and “Beneficiary” dichotomy by neoliberal power brokers. The language of the state makes a better case for this than I can: Residents are now “taxpayers“, who produce a product for the state; equalization, a bedrock of Canadian federalism, is now the “welfare rolls of Confederation”; and a social welfare agenda has been cast aside in favour of a race to balance the budget deficit by an arbitrary date, while unemployment levels in Ontario remain higher than the national rate.

The message emanating from the state is that receipt of benefits, many of which have been previously paid for, places an individual in a Beneficiary role while the productive members of society continue to toil away and pay for the non-productive to continue receiving their benefits. This adversarial relationship has arguably not created an austerity regime but it has allowed it to flourish.

But what of those “Beneficiaries”?

  • I propose that the state austerity — and those who push the neoliberal Producer/Beneficiary dichotomy — reduces those designated unproductive “Beneficiaries” to the status of bare life, pushes them outside the political order and blocks social citizenship.

But to what end? It is biopolitical. Stripped of Producer capacity, there are fewer recognized by the state as enjoying social citizenship and thus being part of the pluralistic voices to be heard. Without counter-action, the bare life Beneficiaries are to eventually lose the few benefits the state has extended through a process of austerity and be further outside the political order. The lucky few deemed “Producers” are to enjoy access to eroding benefits, which have become increasingly privatized and costly while living without stigma.

Here, citizenship blends into “taxpayer” and “Producer” perfectly and becomes an exclusionary class looking down over Beneficiary. The taxpayer produces, while the unemployed person, the social assistant recipient, the minimum wage worker, among other Beneficiaries, are pushed outside the political order. It is no longer enough that those designated Beneficiaries have contributed or can contribute — let alone if they are unable to contribute due to illness or other reason. The outlier in this scenario is the corporation, which now pays comparatively little tax and yet arguably enjoys the benefit of superior Producer status.

This is a blocking of social citizenship. An individual is a citizen of Ontario by birth or naturalization. Non-citizen residents are afforded varying degrees of similar standing. But this emergence of production as a political order stands as an intermediary zone between birth and citizenship. It is, I put to you, a dangerous zone, where political death is practiced.

I raise the question here of where this leaves those traditionally oppressed by discrimination and intersectional biases. These people, I suggest, are now and will be later among the first the state will attempt to push further outside the political order. I suggest they will feel the full brunt of the intense state coercion that typically follows austerity regimes.

It is not my place to declare the political death of any group — especially given the ensuring spirit and daily confrontation with oppression of so many — but to warn against disproportionate gain by subjectively ordered elites. It is the very oppression that many state designated Beneficiaries face that places them in that position. Very often, it is the Producers who decide this social ordering or, at the very least, are complicit in it.

† There are no doubt those granted honourary Producer class status despite their objective lack of production.
These will be individuals who face no biases in Ontario’s predominately patriarchal, racist and heteronormative cultural hegemony.

I propose that the zone in which Beneficiaries are consigned to exclusion will become exacerbated by an austerity agenda in Ontario.

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