By Mark Milke
In the 20th century, much of the divide in politics and policy was over how best to create jobs, incomes and keep people from starving - in other words, how to create opportunity as part of the good life. Those on the "left" argued for state intervention and often outright state ownership; those on the "right" pointed to open markets and other elements of capitalism as the superior route to avoiding poorer populations.
The outcome of that titanic struggle is well-known; the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the implosion of the command-and-control Soviet Union two years later cratered support for the most extreme forms of state intervention.
But that was then. These days, a policy divide often opens up in the struggle to convince large chunks of the public, especially in urban areas with little contact with rural life, not to kill off development.
Part of the problem in such an exercise is that not all development comes wrapped in a pretty package.
An example comes from folk singer Neil Young who recently ranted against Canada's oil sands. In a Washington D.C. speech, Young said that the northern Albertan oil sands city, Fort McMurray, "looks like Hiroshima."
Young's tirade reveals part of what drives opposition to the oil sands - an aesthetic dislike for their visual appearance.
Fort McMurray may not be scintillating but it's hardly a "wasteland." I've been there, as well as to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their atomic bomb museums. To compare a northern mining town to Hiroshima is cheap demagoguery and displays a profound ignorance about the atomic bomb's horrific effect upon the Japanese population in 1945. Such invidious comparisons should not be lightly made.
Mining for oil is not pretty, but then neither are mines that extract the metals necessary for bike parts, or any industrial activity that requires disturbing the earth to extract some substance. That is, after all, real life. (It is also transitory - advances in technology have greatly improved the reclamation of mining sites.)
When artists decry mining, they forget that not every occupation is perfectible or can result in an aesthetic pleasure - be it ditch-digging, setting up a city sewer system or getting minerals and oil out of the ground. Natural gas heats our homes and oil helps transport food to market. Modern-day routine attempts to better the human condition should not be held hostage to idealistic artists who have a misplaced utopian vision about the aesthetic perfectibility of oil-soaked dirt.
Mark Milke is a Senior Fellow with the Fraser Institute.