A credit card superpower

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund released its latest World Economic Outlook, in which it downgraded its predictions for growth in the Canadian economy.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund released its latest World Economic Outlook, in which it downgraded its predictions for growth in the Canadian economy. In 2014 we will, if the IMF is right, experience the slowest growth in G20 countries outside the economic graveyard of the European Union.

Growth is capitalism’s yeast. In order to function, a capitalist economy has to keep producing more and more stuff and consumers have to keep buying it. A huge part of human enterprise in the current system is dedicated to promoting growth, so much so that the wealthiest humans who have ever lived, modern-day CEOs, got rich by making corporations grow, either by producing and selling more stuff, or by buying out other corporations whose stuff sells.

From the outside, if there is an outside, this ferocious promotion of ever-accelerated economic growth can only look like a form of mass-suicide, or perhaps more accurately a form of genocide against future generations. This is not a difficult concept to grasp: eventually, stuff runs out. What will our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, do in a world without stuff?

The counter to this argument is that stuff doesn’t necessarily mean foodstuff, or raw resources, or manufactured goods. Include ideas, art, and culture and the economy might grow as long as the human mind retains its creativity. Seen in this light, a rational economy might be one that took as little as possible from the Earth’s finite supply of resources and made as much as possible out of it, one that grew by creation, rather than by extraction.

But that is not the world as seen by Stephen Harper. Since 2006, Harper has made his vision for the Canadian economy as plain as a puddle of spilled bitumen: to hell with creativity, we’re “an energy superpower.” He has bet the farm on the tarsands, even more so than the two Liberal prime ministers before him, extending billion-dollar annual subsidies to at least 2015, waging a fierce PR battle against carbon pricing and environmentalism, and muzzling government scientists whose findings threaten his superpower dreams.

According to Vladimir Milov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The ‘energy superpower’ concept is an illusion with no basis in reality,” because there is “a mutual dependence” between producers and consumers. Milov was talking about Russia, but he could have meant any country laying claim to energy superpower status.

It turns out that having a lot of oil to sell doesn’t confer the kind of influence you get with a vast economy and a giant military machine. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a moment that there really is such a thing as an energy superpower; would its economy be showing up at the bottom of G20 growth predictions?

To judge by the IMF report, Canada is less an energy superpower than a consumerist one. We don’t grow our economy by strip-mining the boreal forest after all, we grow it by all going out and borrowing money to buy stuff. We spent ourselves out of the 2008 recession by wracking up the highest personal debt on record. Now that the cards are all maxed, there’s no room to grow. As the Financial Post puts it, “If Canada is to pick up its pace of growth … the economy will require a seismic shift away from its dependence on households.”

In a discussion of the world’s broken, irrational, heartless economy there are plenty of examples that trump the personal debt of Canadians. Global warming and Third World poverty spring to mind. On the other hand, it’s at least illustrative that the economy of a resource-rich country like Canada should turn out to be one giant personal-debt bubble. Surely there’s a more rational way to make the wheels go round.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 27, 2020

Premier Sandy Silver during a live update on the COVID-19 situation at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Total Yukon COVID case count increased to 42 cases

Premier urges patience after national meeting on vaccine roll-out

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Most Read