First we had to put up with the burbling from business reporters such as Newsworld‘s Jeannie Lee, as our dollar rose to parity with the U.S. dollar, like a team moving up in the standings. In fact there’s been a huge downside: As the dollar rises, jobs depart, from auto-making to film shoots, because it gets costlier to produce here. Even if some prices fall, you can’t buy if you aren’t paid. In the same way, they cheer each rise in the stock market. Why is up good and down bad? It’s like rooting for the temperature. Go global warming.

Then, as if not wanting to look boosterish, or just getting bored, they look for something to criticize: Hey, there’s no fall in prices! As if the only effects people understand, or that count, lie in shopping. As if all we are is consumers, not citizens, workers or producers, God forbid. How come those stickers stay the same? Retail is all. I keep track of prices, therefore I am.

Peter Mansbridge furrows his brow but doesn’t wonder why a country without workers who make anything has to pay higher markups on iPods than America does. We’re on the way back to producing only what we always did: unprocessed resources like oil, wheat and wood. But the knowledge purveyors prefer to focus on the cost of Levis, obscuring rather than exploring any connection between making and buying.

What will an all-retail economy look like, when that day arrives? My stretch of College Street in Toronto is pretty much restaurants and cafés, rarely broken by even a futon store or 7-Eleven. Can a society survive by serving each other lattes? People rise in the morning, go to their posts and start feeding the customers. But everyone does it, so they’re all running in and out, serving and being served. I have to finish this croissant so I can rush back and make you a falafel.

I extend the metaphor to those who serve information or entertainment. That’s the shell of an economy left when you produce almost nothing for basic need. Not to mention the small matter of dignity involved in making things you need and use each day.

There’s nothing else on the horizon, just less of the same. This week in Winnipeg, an 86-year-old glove-making firm said it would shift all production to Asia, sending the last of its skilled workers into the latte pits, due to “global forces battering Canadian manufacturing, led by a rising Canadian dollar.” The economic policies of all governments, almost everywhere for 20 years, have been on a continuum: Thatcher-Blair, Reagan-Clinton-Bush, Mulroney-Chrétien/Martin-Harper. They all back free trade and the pressure it puts on workers; plus markets, privatization, deregulation.

There’s no point whining about the “left” ones betraying their roots, it’s what they’re about now. There’s been no economic alternative for decades. People searching for a better way find themselves flailing. I was on a panel with some youngish academics last week: They said it was time to revisit the classics, by which they meant Lenin! I take this as a sign of desperation.

Meanwhile, the economy continues to boom, according to the same sources pumped about parity for the dollar, even if, on the gap between rich and poor, Canada now trails Egypt and Pakistan, thanks to Paul Martin’s tax gifts to the rich, soon to be outdone by Stephen Harper. I suppose in the days of Robin Hood, the economy did well too, but then as now, almost all the increase went to the sheriff and the barons.

Speaking of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest, the real one, is in trouble. Many of its magnificent oaks, which have stood for 1,000 years, have been felled by the ferocity of recent storms. There’s a plan to save the rest with lottery money, but it’s competing against five other worthy cases. They’ll be voted on in a TV show. “It does seem a bit weird,” said the head of the Sherwood Living Legend Project. Not so weird, if you think of it as the retailization of everything.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.