Tag Archives: economy

Craigslist Vancouver: Deadbeat Police Scanner?!

Try this if you want to see something interesting. Go to the Vancouver Craigslist page, and go to the search page. Enter “Re:” in the search bar, select “search in post only” and select the “jobs” option. What you’ll find, among a few Remax ads, are vitriolic, profanity laden replies to some of the Help Wanted ads. I’ve subscribed to the search via RSS, and it’s like I’m getting the Weekly World news of the BC business world. There are stories of employers paying sub-standard wages or not paying at all, treating employees poorly, or bilking customers out of their money. All the dirt that’s fit to print.

I thought that this was just the usual grousing that came out of any big city. This is not so. I tried the same search in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and they did not have nearly the volume of complaints that Vancouver did. Toronto and Montreal were more like Vancouver, but Calgary and Edmonton were curiously silent. It wasn’t an exhaustive survey by any means, but this raises some fascinating questions about Canada and its economy. Does this mean there are more poor and disgruntled people in Canada? Are employers cheaper on average here? Do we just have a better grip on how to use a computer? Is this a cultural thing?

Whatever the answer is, this trend is a mystery too big to ignore. Does anyone out there know what this means?

Thank you, Michael Bay. You have saved me $12.

My name is James Strocel. I have been a card-carrying Transformers fan ever since Generation 1 in the 1980’s. I say the following of my own free will. I will not be spending any money to see “Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen” this Summer. If I do so, I would be positively reinforcing actions that are a detriment to the world economy and my enjoyment of giant fighting robots. I would like to present the following as evidence in support of this stance.

While I did pay money to see the first transformers movie, I came away with a number of caveats. First of all, the story seemed to revolve around the human sidekicks more than it did the Transformers who I actually paid to see. Don’t get me wrong, history is full of examples where robots play prominently in a human-centred story-arc. The anime serials Gundam and Macross come to mind. However, the human story in this case surrounded Shia Lebeouf getting to first and a half base with Megan Fox. It seemed as though the writers felt that people would have trouble relating to the titular robots of Transformers, so they added all this extraneous filler to entice people who had already paid their ticket to watch a movie about robots. I was hoping that for the sequel, the good folks at Paramount would get their act together and give the Transformers the screen time they deserve. This will not be the case. The trailer at screened at the Showest film festival spent over one and a half minutes of a two and a half trailer explaining how Shia wanted to leave his transforming corvette at home so he can go off to college and be “normal”. Words cannot begin to describe what’s wrong with that statement.

The first Transformers film grossed over 700 million dollars worldwide. Anyone poke holes in my rationale by saying that Michael Bay is just giving the fans what they want. He doesn’t have to listen to me, an actual fan, because he has the numbers to tell anyone who doesn’t like his human interest stories to go to hell. If that’s the case, then I have some numbers of my own to show.

The Dow Jones has lost 50% of its value over the past year. The cascading effects of bank insolvency and freezing on lending has led to over $14 trillion dollars worth of companies being shut down. How did we get to this point? By pleasing two sets of people, prospective homebuyers unable to pay their mortgages, and investors looking for high risk and high return investments. Banks made billions by giving sub-prime mortgages to the first group and selling to the latter. People got what they wanted, but did they get what they need? Not by a long shot.

Designing our entertainment or any other product around “giving people what they want” is killing industries left and right. Pontiac finds out that people “want” extra plastic and spoilers on their cars, so they make a car like the Aztec. Papers make more money from advertising than from actual paper sales, so the pages are stuffed to foie-gras goose proportions with ads. If you run a business and are just “giving people what they want” you are abdicating your responsibility as an entrepreneur. When you try to engage all this marketing mumbo-jumbo by testing random samples with no vested interest your business, you are only fooling yourself. Entrepreneurs have a duty to make their products the best they can be, no matter what the polls say. People’s needs have remained the same for thousands of years, but what an entrepreneur does is take a small piece of the universe, be it coffee, toothpicks or even the laws of physics that allows your iPod to work and fashions it into a new frontier to satisfy those age-old needs. It’s like being in a tribe of hunter-gatherers and knowing which ridge leads to the best wild game. It would put you on the fast track to becoming chief hunter-gatherer. The very best entrepreneurs educate people. They know how to get the most benefit out of their products and they pass that knowledge on for a nominal fee.

I realize the philosophy of “giving people what they want” is not going to die over night. My absence at the theatre will be bearly noticed, and I have little hope of getting others to join me. However, we keep saying over and over that we need leadership to get us out of this crisis. We think that the leadership is going to come from our elected officials. I think that we’ll find that leadership in a decent cup of coffee, a well-made camera, or movies that don’t insult our intelligence. If we support decent leadership where we find it by our simple consumer choices, we support the very ideas and strategies that will get us out of any economic crisis.

Stimulus Package: Everybody’s Broke

trillion_dollars

Call it the Credit Crunch, Depression 2.0, or whatever. The fact is, due to a set of cascading financial circumstances, businesses all over the world are now dealing with the problem of no money. It’s not that labour and capital are too expensive, there is just no money to pay for it all. Since I belong to a relatively high turn-over industry, I’ve been watching out for the stimulus packages that are being passed to get the world’s industries humming again.

The Canadian government’s plans did not produce much in the way of debate. The Liberals and Conservatives simply agreed to disagree and Jack Layton was left alone with a torch and pitchfork in his hands and a stunned expression on his face. Granted, with the regulatory environment our banks have, there seems to be much less at stake in Canada. In America, the numbers are bigger, the stakes are higher, and the tempers shorter.

I understand the debate as the gross generalization that I am about do describe. We have one side in favor of the stimulus package. They want the 800 billion to go into projects that will pay workers who will in turn spend that money again in the general economy. This way of thinking subscribes to the Keynesian school of economics. The other side is against government spending of any kind, and states that such a package will bankrupt the country and they’ll all be cleaning trillion dollar bills out of the gutter by the year’s end. The people saying this proudly say they hail from the Austrian school of economics.

I find the Austrian Solution for the problem very interesting because it seems to consist of the following:

Stage 1: Let Companies Fail.

Stage 2: ???

Stage 3: Profit.

Of course, that’s not the whole plan, but out on the internet I heard a lot about of the doom-saying about runaway inflation and not much in the way of an alternative plan. It turns out that many followers of the Austrian School of economics are supporters of Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who has come up with what I suppose is the vision for their philosophy. This includes abolishing of many government institutions, including the Federal Reserve. Military bases would be closed all over the world, and the US would pull out of the UN and NATO. Drug regulation would be turned over to the states, who could legalize and criminalize as they pleased.

While that leaves out the interesting question of the power vacuum that would be left behind if the US Military were to take its ball and go home, I can see this strategy’s appeal. It certainly is different, and it challenges many assumptions of value in the US structure of power. However, it completely enshrines the idea that government never does anything right, spends taxpayer’s money on hookers and blow, and kicks puppies for good measure. As a product of a government-run medical system, I have a problem reconciling that with the successes of government institutions around the world. It would be destruction for its own sake if the stimulus packages aren’t passed and unemployment is just allowed to increase. Furthermore, these packages include projects like roads and bridges that the market depends on, but can’t reasonably benefit from in the short run. Radical ideas are attractive because they encourage debate and lead up to things that are truly creative. However, we have to be aware that we sometimes cling to these ideas simply because they allow us to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

What will Canada Do With Barack Obama?

In case you didn’t know it was the 21st century, America has just elected Barack Obama, the first African-American President. Personally, I think this turn of events benefits everyone, even Non-Americans like me. It isn’t going to matter exactly what kind of President he is, the fact that Obama got elected the way he did is enough to rewrite the playbook on political campaigns. A vivid and compelling vision of your city, province or country is a requirement for any run for office. Now that we have the internet, that vision can be as vivid and compelling as you want. You can have as much information out there as you want, and the candidate with the most information wins. This increases voter confidence and energizes your core base. Early statistics place US voter turnout at 70-80 percent. Forget that there is a black US president, that number is an even greater achievement!

However, since Canada’s relationship with the US still resembles that of a humpback whale and a cluster of barnacles, a change in regime should always be a concern. The US Ambassador warned the Fraser institute that Canada will miss Bush if Obama wins the election. I’m sure we will miss Bush just as much as that lovely 30% duty he decided to put on our softwood lumber exports.

Obama’s site says that he will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to change NAFTA in such a way that benefits America’s workers. The campaign promise is vague in a way that’s unsettling. Is he appealing to his democrat base, or is this a vision of things to come? Of course, there are also elements within Canada that believe we got the raw deal on NAFTA. Perhaps if all parties meet on the basis of a shared distrust of the agreement, some common ground can be found and a better NAFTA will result.

No matter what Obama’s actions as president we’ll be, it’s a sure bet that he will think of his own people first. We should ask nothing less of our own parliament. However, we should take solace in the fact that he got to where he is right now by listening to the people around him, rather than just hiding behind his talking points. Where his opponents demanded obedience, he demanded inventiveness and passion. If he invites Canada to join in his plans for the future, he will do it by trying to inspire that same inventiveness and passion. Even if he turns out to be an adversary to Canada’s interests, the only way we’ll do right by Canada is if we respond with a strong vision of Canada and our place in the world. Either way, we come out with the Canada we wish for.

Cooking


Nothing defines you as an adult quite like your ability to cook. You not only have the ability to feed yourself, but it shows you have the potential to cook for others, perhaps a family. No matter how much of human labor is replaced by automatic gadgets we are still able to justify our existence with a decent home-cooked meal.

However, for all the romance and honour surrounding cooking, it still takes time, practice, and many minutes fanning the smoke alarm. It’s true that not enough people cook for dinner. We’re dependent on processed and fast foods because when we’re worn out and tired at the end of the day, we just don’t have the energy to fire up the stand-up mixer and whip up some Thai chicken pizza. And I can say from experience that if you don’t have good knives, it really knocks the wind out of any culinary venture. On top of that, we have to worry about where our food comes from, whether it’s grown in a way that won’t leave us starving in a few decades. Nonetheless, the economy of leftovers, the decency of locally grown food and the feeling of a full stomach outweigh the consequences of having your diet designed by Kraft Foods.

I think the best way to make the transition off of processed foods is to make a compromise. One of the staples around our house is Japanese Curry. The sauce mix itself is full of fat, chemicals, and probably comes directly off of a plane from Japan. However, the recipe calls for any of vegetable and meat that you wish. It’s a simple meal that creates a base line for other more complex dishes.

Japanese Curry
1 Carrot
1 potato (or 1/2 a sweet potato)
1 medium onion
1 pound of meat (pork, chicken, beef)
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups of water
1 box of Japanese Curry Sauce mix (we use Glico)

Fry the meat in a saucepan, then remove from heat. Fry the chopped onions until clear, then add meat and other vegetables. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn down the element to medium-low and let the mixture simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the curry cubes. Stir and let stand for a few minutes. Makes 4 servings.