Overwhelming Economics

The constant media coverage of the worldwide economic crisis has become nearly overwhelming. All the on-air babbling of economists and politicians about job rates, stock indices, credit defaults and the like often seems beyond the grasp of the average person. Although it’s tempting to tune out the jargon, the message that’s emerging is one that should resonate with everyone: the economy is stuck, and everyone’s way of life is threatened.

What’s happening in the global economy trickles down and has implications for us all, from CEOs and bankers to single parents and new graduates. Ask anyone who’s just graduated with an expensive degree and now can’t get a job in his or her field—or just about any field, for that matter. Economies are like cobwebs, and when one thread comes undone, the entire structure must bear the added burdens.

To be sure, many are rightly worried—every day, media reports of continuing economic turbulence and a so-called “double-dip” recession looming are creating a continued sense of unease. We know that young Canadians and recent immigrants are still buckling under the stress of high unemployment and minimal prospects, even in skilled sectors, but the risk of a repeated decline in overall economic growth threatens to exacerbate the problem and seep into sectors that are either stable or have re-stabilized since the previous drop-off in 2008.

Unfortunately, many of Canada’s problems tend to stem from external sources. Canada is a resource-rich, export-dependent country: our livelihood hinges on what we produce or extract and sell to our neighbours. If those markets aren’t buying, the effects ripple down into all the different parts of our economy. The ongoing debt crisis of the European Union, combined with stagnant growth and high unemployment in the United States, causes problems north of the 49th parallel.

Things may be improving; concrete steps were taken in Europe this week that will likely have repercussions here in North America. By agreeing to an economic stabilization package among member states, the EU has addressed increasing calls for action. Given that after the United States, the EU comprises the second largest economic unit in the world, the member states’ direction affects economies worldwide. Canada and its Commonwealth cousins have welcomed the stabilization plan this week at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia, wherein economic issues were one of the key areas of discussion among leaders.

It’s worth asking, though: is it enough to stand by and let other countries fix their problems in the hopes that this will resolve our own? The Canadian federal government has, for the time being, taken a very hands-off approach in terms of stimulating our economy, just as it did in 2008. Although more than willing to intercede in labour disputes in the name of safeguarding key industries—generally seen as thinly veiled ideological attacks against unions by the staunchly anti-labour Conservative Party—the government has remained largely inactive so far. The idea that Canada is still better off than other countries and thus needs no new direction seems to be the line they’re sticking with.

However, for most, the picture is not so rosy. As NDP finance critic Peggy Nash—recently stepped down to run for the leadership of the party—has stated several times, we are at risk of creating a “lost generation” of young and new Canadians. The ability to build a truly successful life generally requires financial stability and growth to begin at a relatively young age; if people can’t find stable work, they don’t have a stable platform on which to build. The risk of taking on large financial assets like homes or vehicles can be too much; if people can’t depend on credit and monetary foundations, they’re less likely to start families.

Ultimately, unless the world’s governments begin to aggressively tackle the economic crisis, there will be a continued domino effect into other parts of society. It may not be a catastrophe, but it could be an increasingly prolonged headache, a stretch of mediocre performance that negatively impacts people’s lives. If people continue to fear a second recession—and many predictions of one have been made—sluggish conditions will continue as well and impede the creation of new jobs. In short, the situation becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, and the only way to break out of it is immediate, sustained action from all governments at all levels. People need to keep informing themselves, paying attention to what’s actually happening, and then pressuring their representatives. Simply waiting for things here to improve on their own doesn’t seem to be working.

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