Category Archives: Economics

Time for Bigger Decisions

Did the bailout just squander our best chance for social change?

I was calling local brokerage and investment firms, asking how the market crashes and bailouts were affecting these companies’ local clients.

I started feeling naïve. Did I really think anyone would answer? Did I expect Victoria’s Investors Group or some self-employed broker to cry, “We’re losing money like crazy! Don’t tell our clients!”

Instead, people directed me to national offices or begged off with a tone of, “We’re comfortably riding out the storm, but we’re extremely busy right now/all day/all week/please god don’t call back.”

U.S. companies were similarly secretive until the moment they tanked; after all, nothing undermines a shaky financial firm like a public admission collapse may be imminent. Criminal fraud investigations are underway against some companies, too late for the victims.

And there are more victims daily. Obviously, many here and elsewhere have been losing – by mid-October $2 trillion in U.S. worker pensions alone. By the time you’re reading this, much will have changed, so I won’t prognosticate.

But looking back, I’m starting to think our unwillingness to be openly honest just made us squander what may have been the greatest opportunity for serious social change of our lifetimes. Continue reading

Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness

The Victoria Times-Colonist ran articles last fall about delinquent doctors remaining licensed to practice. Evidently, doctors’ secretive, self-funded, self-regulating disciplinary and licensing body, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, is more interested in protecting doctors than in protecting the public. Under questioning, provincial government representatives pleaded helplessness; they had no authority over the college.

But after continuing scandalized media coverage, Health Minister George Abbott pledged to legislate more public accountability for our public doctors.

I was skeptical. After all, this scandal wasn’t new. I wrote about it myself for Monday Magazine ten years ago.

A former chief of psychiatry of Victoria’s Eric Martin Pavilion had been found guilty of drugging a female patient into a “zombie-like” state and sexually assaulting her over months while working in Ontario. He was back practising psychiatry here. I interviewed government representatives locally, regionally, provincially and nationally, and they responded in a chorus of, “That’s troubling, but we’re helpless. The college has authority.” Continue reading

Dangerous Powers Drive the Dollar

I handed the cashier a bill that said ‘50,000’ on it.

She laughed. “That’s not enough!”

I handed her one that said ‘5’.

“Oh God, I can’t change that for you,” she moaned. “Haven’t you got anything smaller?”

I held out my billfold and she took what she liked.

This was Brazil, 1990. The value of their monetary currency was nose-diving amidst 5,000 percent inflation that year alone. There were now three different currencies circulating.

During times of plunging currency value, instead of forcing citizens to push wheelbarrows of bills and count out $4.7 million to board the bus, that’s what governments do. They issue a new “dollar” equal to thousands of the old ones. So in Brazil, Cruzeiros were being replaced by Cruzados. But the problems kept escalating, and before the transition completed, Cruzados Novos were created and declared to be worth 1,000 Cruzados or 1,000,000 Cruzeiros.

A passing tourist, I was helpless trying to sort out costs in all my different-coloured bills.

But that was nothing compared to the helplessness Brazil’s citizens were feeling, as their economy was undermined by international currency markets many of them barely understood.

In a much smaller way, we’re often similarly victimized by our own currency’s shifting value.

Continue reading

A Victoria Made in China

China has become a major local issue. This hit me when shopping for running shoes. I checked store after store, brand after brand, model after model. In stores with dozens of types, I typically found-maybe-one model made outside China.

It’s enlightening the responses you’ll get when you politely request a product that was not manufactured under a fascist regime.

“What’s a fashion reg… What?” responded one young woman.

Ask for Bin Laden toilet paper or glow-in-the-dark gum, and they’ll consult computerized catalogues and promise it within days. But ask for something guaranteed not to have been made by child slaves, and you’ll get a blank, annoyed stare or helpless shrug.

Worse, you’ll get a sympathetic moan-from the head purchaser. “Unfortunately, that’s the way it is these days.”

Canada’s importing ten times more from China than just over a decade ago, surpassing $29 billion yearly and making China our second biggest trading partner. In many Victoria stores, Chinese products make up 100% of most lines of sporting goods, electronics, clothes and more.

Managers blame you and me. “Our hands are tied,” explained one. “Our customers want things cheap.”

So if I’d walked in 70 years earlier distributing gold fillings from Holocaust victims, would they have simply said, “Gee… Are they cheap?”

“And there’ll be plenty more!” Continue reading

The Telus Commitment to Disservice

It’s petty. It’s a story of my own battle over a little thing with a 10 billion dollar corporation, filled with inane digressions and ridiculous amounts of wasted time.

Yet I want to scream about it. And I’m starting to realize it’s emblematic of an emerging trend.

It began last April, when I moved in with someone. I contacted BC’s only land line phone company Telus to close my own account, and requested two services: My name, with my room-mate’s number, added to directory listings. And a message on my old phone line saying “this number has been changed to…”

The Telus rep said we’d have to pay a monthly rate for the “extra listing”. It was a rip-off ($1.75 per month to have your name added to a list?), but as a full-time freelancer, I need to be accessible.

However, he said, putting a message on my old line redirecting people to my new number was impossible.

But I got such a message the last time I moved, I said.

He explained that moving my phone account was “different” than closing my account and paying to be listed on someone else’s. What this primordial, elemental difference was, he couldn’t convey, but no amount of money could bridge the gap. Indeed, the CRTC had banned it, he said. (The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry in Canada.)

Incredulous, I asked, “There’s a government regulation forbidding Telus from putting a message like that on my old phone line?” Continue reading