The world economy is mis-functioning. The whole world is sending money to the richest country, the U.S., to feed its consumption habits. While Germany, Japan, China, and the oil exporters are in a surplus position, the rest of the world is in deficit. This is a serious problem because, unlike the U.S., other deficit countries cannot settle their accounts by printing their own money.
Where are the leaders? It's a question I hear from people more and more.
People are looking for inspiration, hope, some sense that someone at least has some ideas of where the country should go -- not go this afternoon or tomorrow or next week but in the next 20 or 50 years.
Someone who is at least partly a visionary and not just a strategist and tactician. Canadians, I think, are desperately looking for someone who can demonstrate that they have done some serious and thoughtful thinking about what kind of country we want to build.
But political leadership of that kind seems to be a thing of the past. They don't make Tommy Douglases anymore or even Pierre Trudeaus. Why?
Governing as business
I'd calmly planned to write on the Toronto G20 summit in two weeks, when it unfolds. But it's making me crazy now. It's like the second coming of SARS, the last time Toronto took a turn on the world stage: a lesson in ways to turn a fairly vibrant town into a desert.
In the midst of a world financial crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has mounted an international campaign to thwart the efforts of European leaders to force major banks to take out -- and pay for -- compulsory bad loan insurance. The insurance principle that lies behind the European proposal is that in bad times, banks less affected by crisis, should shoulder responsibility along with those in trouble. Harper has decided to use his position as host of June's G8/G20 meetings to oppose prudent measures to restore some order to out-of-control banking practices. The prime minister's campaign is designed to sabotage proposals made by conservative leaders from France and Germany.
I went lobster fishing off West Pubnico with a young buddy last week. At one point, he indicated a boat ahead and said, "See that guy. He's not making any money. He's got a 750-horsepower engine." It turns out that not making any money, and the many things that might prevent you from doing so -- like a costly engine, or a couple of lost lobster pots at $100 each - is pretty well the only topic on the lobster grounds these days. This is a big deal for the economy of the Maritimes. Lobster is a billion-dollar-plus export industry, but it's especially the case for Western Nova Scotia where nearly half the Atlantic catch comes from.
Since the early 1980s, Canadian economic policy has consisted of introducing market-friendly policies. The stated goal was to increase productivity, defined as output per person-hour worked. Reliance on markets has not produced the expected results.
Speaking to the Ottawa Economics Association this spring, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney put a pointed question to Canadian business leaders. Given all the measures put in place by successive governments to promote productivity, why is business failing to invest?
When the Gulf of Mexico oil rig blew, there was probably not a fisherman or fish plant operator in western Nova Scotia, where I live, who didn't have the same cold flash: an oil rig blows on Georges Bank; the enormous tides of the Bay of Fundy suck half the oil up and down twice a day, polluting everything from Cape Cod to Lockeport and right up to Moncton; while the other half is locked in the "gyre" of currents that goes round and round over one of the world's best fishing grounds
Economists often take the economy for an elevator. Are we going up or going down? With the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) arrow recently pointing up, instead of down, you might think the economy is improving. But output (which is what GDP measures) does not matter to people lives as much as employment and its evil twin unemployment.
Unemployment keeps wages from going up and workers from sharing in productivity gains (which have been poor lately), so it hurts all workers. Armine Yalnizyan (CCCPA), Erin Weir (Steelworkers), and Sylvain Schetagne (CLC) have been crunching the employment numbers, and each economist has a cautionary tale to relate.
I just did my taxes this weekend, and I'm wracked with guilt.
Personally, I've never found completing my taxes particularly onerous. It takes me a few hours -- no big deal. I'm paid well (and well above the average). I've never had to hire an accountant, as I'm not doing anything fancy. I'm only availing myself of a few basic deductions -- RRSPs, the childcare deduction and charitable deductions.
Michael Ignatieff did a well publicized tour of Canadian Universities in January. Judging from the list of 40 speakers he invited to address the upcoming Liberal thinkers conference March 26 to 28 in Montreal, he was not impressed: only one student is invited to speak (water activist Ryan Hreljac), and no younger faculty.
The Liberals went for business leaders: 11 CEOs will own the podium (sorry). In 2010, knowledge seemly increases with salary, and brains are best found in the biggest executive suite. Aside from Ryan Hreljac, education is represented by three University and College presidents, two business school heavies, two political scientists, a health scientist and an economist.