Category Archives: Economics

Mayor Ford…Sigh


This is what it has come to. Toronto citizens are in the throes of what amounts to the 5 Stages of Grief, where Mayor Rob Ford is concerned.

Stage one: Denial.

Yes, in the beginning, although the signs of trouble appeared early, many supporters continued to, well, support their vote for the Gravy Train conductor—not unlike the handful of Americans who believed invading Iraq was the right thing to do, until it became evident there were no WMD’s, that the whole thing was a ruse perpetrated by the highest level of government. It didn’t take long for Mr. Ford and his henchmen to find out there is little or no gravy flooding the corridors of City Hall. Remember his campaign mantra: “There will be no cuts to services!”

Stage two: Anger.

Now we have thousands of workers under the chopping block; TTC fares are rising while services are reduced; Car Revenue Tax (a source of income) eliminated and bicycle lanes removed (at taxpayers’ expense); library services reduced; arts funding reduced; the city’s poorest citizens evicted from public housing so it can be sold; waterfront development torpedoed (remember the giant Ferris Wheel?). Property tax increase imminent. You get the idea. But at last, the masses are mobilizing, showing up for City Hall meetings to voice their concerns. Open warfare between the Brothers Ford and Toronto’s most priceless asset, Dame Margaret Atwood. A handful of sensible council members finally popping their heads out of the trench and daring to openly challenge the mayor and his cronies on some of their more outrageous maneuvers.  The police department, which was promised an increase in ranks, openly defies the mayor’s demand for a ten-percent reduction in budget (i.e.: layoffs).

Stage three: Bargaining.

The unions are sending up flares. Toronto can expect disruptions in many areas in the coming year, thanks to Mr. Ford’s bully tactics. Waterfront Toronto is attempting to save its marriage with the city, because it has already invested so much time and money in the project, and because it remains the best option for the lakefront development (sorry, Robbie, no Ferris Wheel for you and your little brother). Library management is taking control of how cuts will be made in its own department, despite the Ford plan, which was to simply shut most of them down altogether. Just to name a few.

Welcome to stage four: Depression.

No longer shocked or outraged by the mayor’s imbecilic words and actions, all we can do is sigh. We feel powerless. An election is still several years away, unless some plucky lawyer steps forward with a strategy to impeach the Mayor. Come on, Bay Street, if a few of you can come out in support of some rag-tag “Occupy” protesters who didn’t even have an issue to fight for, the least you can do is save your own city from this bloated Nero, before he burns the place to the ground. I know most of you live on Mississauga Road, but you work downtown, and you will soon be paying road tolls to get your Jag into the underground lot, unless you do something soon.

Stage five: Acceptance.

We haven’t got there, yet, but we will. Like the battered wife, we will eventually be beaten into submission. And make no mistake, the appearance of Acceptance will be entirely superficial, a defense mechanism, the only way to cope, to keep the rod from once again coming down on our heads.

Stage six: vote.

Please.

 


Occu-Pie-In-The-Sky


I’ve been waiting patiently, these past weeks, for the Occupy Movement to amount to something. So far, the wait has been disappointing, even downright boring. I’m now ready for them to disappear, return to their parents’ basements, update their cv’s, beg for their job back at Starbucks. Somehow, by the fading remnants of my youthful idealism, I hoped someone intelligent and charismatic would step forward and take this movement by the reins, tell them, and us, what they are against, who it is they are against, and what they intend to achieve with their camps and marches and pumping fists. I was waiting for the next MLKing.

But apparently all the smart, charismatic people are as embarrassed and put off by this crowd as I am. They don’t want to be associated with a mob that has repeatedly and unswervingly proven to have no coherent thoughts or ideas of its own. It would simply be too much work educating and informing the protesters, never mind the public and governments and business leaders. Only the lawyers have shown up to the party, because it’s a photo op.

Yes, we know that the protesters are against the “one percent,” but what does that mean? Are the 1p the real villains? To be sure, they may be envied for their success and wealth. Which of us would turn down an opportunity to joint that elite group? Not me. But I’m either not smart enough or not lucky enough to get super-rich, so I have to work for a living. The American protesters complain that the American Dream is dead. Well, not exactly; the dream has merely been corrupted over the past quarter century. When the dream (which, by osmosis, also infects Canadians) was born, during the post-war boom, it meant that any person willing to put in some hard work could succeed. Not necessarily become yacht-driving billionaires, but had the potential to steadily increase their standard of living. Buy a small house, then, after working hard and saving a bit, move up to a bigger, nicer house. Trade the car in every three years. Buy a colour television set, with remote control. Take a vacation in Bermuda. Send the smartest of their children to university. This dream was especially attractive to the immigrant population, who pursued the dream with the twin disadvantages of being immigrants and arriving in the country with five dollars in their pocket.

The prevailing view today is that the Dream owes young people, without requiring the prerequisite hard work. They expect the 52″ flat screen and a new BMW 325i on their first turn around the block. They vacation in Mexico or Cuba twice a year, thanks to a credit card. They spend $250 each Thursday night on designer martinis, because how else will they find love, now that Lavalife is passé? They’ll get the downpayment for their first condo from their parents, who know that their children will otherwise never enter the housing market because they are unmotivated and financially illiterate. Ambition is no longer present in 99-percent of today’s youth. The remaining 1-percent will go on to join the despised elite. So, yes, the great American Dream is dead, but it was not killed by the 1p.

Back to the current protesters: Apart from the fantasy of forcing the 1p to write personal cheques to the other 99p, what is their plan for change? I mean a real plan. Why don’t they even know who it is they should be protesting to? If they knew that, they would have voted, instead of loafing around parks, bitching about how hard-done-by they are. Yes, university students have crushing loan debt by the time they graduate, but whose fault is that? Not the 1p. Ask your government, who used to forgive student loans, back in the days when universities didn’t take anyone and everyone, but selected only the smartest cookies from the jar. Once they opened their doors to anyone who could pay the tuition, the government could no longer forgive such an avalanche of loans, and today’s grads are paying the price, literally, for decades. But, again, this is not the fault of the 1 percent. If student debt is your beef, it is legitimate, and you should protest it. But to whom? Well, to the universities, to begin with, for ruining the student loan system in order to make more money. And the government, for letting them do it, and then buying into the change by demanding repayment. It’s only sad that I have to tell you what to protest about, that you can’t figure it out for yourselves.

Of course, if you take my advice and eventually succeed in this protest, you may discover you are one of the many who aren’t smart enough to gain entry into McMaster’s engineering program. You may have to settle for Media Studies at Sheridan College. You may have to learn a trade. Open a shop. Drive a taxi. You may not believe it, but that’s the way things used to be, back when the Dream was still alive.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to suggest every protester is a third-year MBA candidate. These are examples. Whoever you are, and whatever your specific gripe, let’s hear it. Let’s hear what you’d like [insert target here] to do about it. Maybe you lost your job and now you’re losing your house. In that case, you’d be correct in targeting the banks, but not because they were bailed out (which, in Canada, they were not), but because they put several deadly bullets in the Dream during the past fifteen years, throwing credit cards and lines of credit and 0% down mortgages at anything that moved. And you could be forgiven for accepting these spectacular offers, because the banks told you it was okay to do so. Well, the banks have learned that lesson, and have now recovered some of their previous caution and good sense, so a protest at this point is a bit late. But it’s worth mentioning, in case they ever get that funny idea again, in the future.

My point is this. If you can’t think of something specific to protest, and who to aim that protest at, you need to say goodbye to your homeless confreres, pack up the tent and go home. I’m sure the press will not miss you for long, as there is always something actually important going on in the world to keep them busy. You’ve had your fifteen minutes, and now it’s time to call it a day, before the cops show up with warrants and pepper spray.

I suggest you go away and think hard about your life, about what’s really wrong with it. If you put to work those grade-11 analytical skills you’ve kept dormant these past few years, you just might come up with a plan. In the meantime, try to enjoy the flatscreen television that you won’t have to pay for ’till 2012.


Give Forgiveness a Chance


Now that the Vatican has come out of the woodwork waving a sheaf of parchment upon which is etched a bizarre, “schizophrenic,” solution to the European economic crisis, I feel a bit more comfortable about offering my own modest proposal.

Let us be perfectly clear: I am not an economist; I know practically nothing about international money lending; I am not a member of MENSA (college dropout, truthfully, which doesn’t preclude my application to said organization); while I observe politics, sometimes with a critical eye, I am not an insider, and therefore am uninitiated in the nuances of the industry. Still, naïve and under-informed, I have an idea, let’s call it a suggestion, for world leaders, to help them recover from this global financial crisis:

Give forgiveness a chance.

…now that you’ve stopped rolling your eyes, allow me to explain.

Question: What would the consequences be, if the countries called Lenders were to forgive debts to countries called Lendees? Yes, forgive the debts, completely and without prejudice. Bearing in mind that some, perhaps many, or even most, of the Lenders are also Lendees, the forgiveness would travel in all directions. Yes, yes, I know there is an imbalance in the ledgers; I know that the proportion of Greece’s debt is higher, in comparison to it’s accounts receivables, than, say, Canada’s, but there is no room for “proportional” forgiveness; it’s all or nothing.

Next question: What will the consequences be, if the countries, both Lenders and Lendees, continue to accomplish little in the way of actually solving the problem, and in fact generate another devastating worldwide economic meltdown—something the actual experts are predicting?

Don’t look upon my suggestion as an act of charity. It’s more akin to the professional gambler’s credo: Better to cut your losses than throw good money after bad. Analyze both questions and figure out which one will hurt less. Since I’m not an expert, I’m throwing it to the public wind, in the hope than someone out there will take up the challenge. Come on, you bean counters and academics: get out the slide ruler and start crunching, or sliding, or whatever it is you do. And you, too, MENSA. You’re pretty smart cookies. Give it some thought.

To forgive can be more than divine; it can save the world. Maybe. I think. Let me know.