Ownership and Interests





Twenty-first Century Irvings is a new book about the Irvings by Harvey Sawler. Sawler is a former journalist turned tourism promoter. I don't know if that's good or bad, and I haven't read the book. But I read this review or sales pitch or whatever:

... the Irving tradition—hard work, family loyalty, and an awe-inspiring attention to detail. These contemporary Irvings are trying to do all this while attempting to cast a kinder, gentler Irving image, which those close to the family claim has always been a part of the Irving’s rural New Brunswick makeup.
... Sawler exposes the truths behind [the myths that are spread about the wealthy empire], and predicts the transformation of the family, like the Rockefellers and the Morgans, from industrialists to philanthropists.

Hmmm..., says I. Philanthropists. I guess that's what you call it when businessmen, already rich from not paying their taxes, start directing public and charitable funding meant to ease the burden on the poor and underserved. Sometimes it's called "Private Participation in the Control of Public Spending". According to his bio, one of Harvey Sawler's guiding principles is "If you can’t own the brand, you don’t want it." I'm pretty sure that's an Irving principle too. Maybe that makes sense in tourism and business, I don't know.

I do know that nonprofits cannot compete with industrialists for government monies. Nor can they afford to hire a world-class PR company like Knowlton Hill. Or publish their own daily newspapers while buying out or suppressing all others. So when the wealthy decide they know best how to deal with homelessness or reduce domestic violence or teach people to read, the rest of us might as well go home.

I've been reading When Smoke Ran Like Water, subtitled Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution. This depressingly recent social history by Devra Davis reminds the reader how often, and how relentlessly, the business class has been willing to watch people suffer and die in order to maximize profit. I already knew that. In my mostly silly university days I witnessed, from a distance, one period of our on-going brutal treatment of Latin America under the guise of development aid. Also in the 1980s, I watched as business first slowed, then redirected, the environmental movement; setting us back 25 years in the process. I think about those things each time I hear that we need Business "at the table" when we discuss or plan for literacy work.

They're stakeholders, its explained to me. Well, maybe not yet. But they will be. And they will come with the simple, sincere philosophy: if I can't own the brand, I don't want it. I don't even want it to exist.

I know you're thinking this is all kind of vague and over-the-top. That's cause you don't do literacy work in New Brunswick.

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