The Dirty “Pragmatism” of a True Capitalist: Peter Munk on Indigenous Rights, Equality, and what society needs

Peter Munk has become rather famous over the years as a man who speaks without the constraints of political correctness, or really any sort of correctness at all. From praising Pinochet to simultaneously acknowledging and dismissing acts of gang rape by his own employees, Munk’s words offer a rare glimpse at the mind of a man who has achieved high status in the Canadian business world.

In a recent interview with the Economist, Peter Munk again speaks his mind, not realizing that he was, in fact, making a total ass out of himself. I will provide some excerpts, alongside necessary context, here to illustrate my point:

ECONOMIST: Indigenous groups appear to have a lot more say and power in resource development these days.

MUNK: Globally it’s a real problem. It’s a major, major problem. Why? Because human rights and NGOs and young students are idealistic, like we all were, and the underdog gets their support.

He goes on to talk about how these Indigenous people are “manipulated by very bad lawyers” and that “it doesn’t matter how much you deal with the majority of indigenous people, there is always a splinter group that will go for a lawyer who represents them and who makes legal claim after legal claim”.

Compare this to a Globe and Mail comprehensive feature on Pascua Lama, where journalist Stephanie Nolan admits that “in Chile today, you could spend a very long time trying to find anyone with a good word to say about Pascua-Lama.” In Alto del Carmen, Nolan explains:

“people were glad to have the new opportunities that might come with the mine—but not at the cost of their current way of life, or their water. ‘People here have a strong relationship with their land—the people don’t want to work in mining, they work their land,’ explains Jorge Villar, the town’s administrator. A former finance manager, he moved to the valley a few years ago, drawn by its hypnotic landscape and the peaceful life it offered. In Pascua-Lama, he saw potential jobs and revenue for the town. But most of his new neighbours, he soon realized, did not. ‘They’re not interested in the mining company offering them big salaries. Because if you change their way of life and their environment, what are they going to offer their children and their grandchildren?'”

Munk further explains why the churches seem to turn against his mines as well. “Unfortunately, churches in these tiny communities often also don’t like the fact that suddenly their people, who were totally dependent on them, now have high-paying jobs. They can send their kids to be educated in big cities,” Munk explains. But Munk of course is twisting the truth here. Most of the jobs go to people from outside of the Huasco Valley, where the primary industry is agriculture. And of course the churches are supporting a popular moment against his mining project.

Munk’s articulation of his distorted worldview did not stop there. He railed against the Indigenous people that were bringing his company to court to protect “constant and steady unperturbed enjoyment of their rights”, clearly angered that they were standing in the way of a few thousand jobs.

Munk then admits that he “was pretty left wing when I was in college because I believed that every human being had the same rights. You live in this idealistic, beautiful, morally inspired world of correctness. You don’t realise until you get a bit older that pragmatism has to prevail. Unless you can create jobs, unless you can create wealth, unless you can create tax revenues this society will not last much longer.”

Pragmatism must prevail? The Pascua Lama project impacts the sole water source in an arid valley for tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile, gold mining is an unnecessary practice as we get over 3 times are practical use of the substance from recycled sources*. Apparently, Peter Munk thinks that it is pragmatic to destroy the earth in pursuit of things that we don’t need. It seems like if we continue to use vast fresh water resources and pollute the land, our environment’s ability to sustain us won’t last. Something’s got to give, and I’m happy to give up gold.

*according to the World Gold Council, 11% of gold is used for anything other than jewellery or investment. Meanwhile, we get 35-37% from recycled sources.

** The Title “The Dirty Pragmatism of a True Capitalist” was taken from the comment section of the Economist article, suggesting that Munk’s views represent the views of a wider community.

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