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Are we trying to prove Darwin wrong?

May 19, 2009 – During this current recession, two things have given me cause to wonder if it’s just me or whether people have seen too many Tom Cruise movies, and have lost all capability for rational thought.


May 19, 2009
By Ralph Pearce

May 19, 2009

Are we trying to prove Darwin wrong?
During this current recession, two things have given me cause to wonder if it’s just me or whether people have seen too many Tom Cruise movies, and have lost all capability for rational thought.

The first is that this recession is a sign of an approaching apocalypse. It isn’t. Ask any first-year economics student or a bank officer who knows enough not to try to milk the system, and you learn very quickly that a recession is a regular and cyclical adjustment for unchecked economic growth. 

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In other words, it’s a rude awakening for the greedy sods out there who think 20 percent ROI is less than fantastic, and who failed to learn their lessons from Japan in the 1990s.

But the puzzling note on this particular recession is the repeated resentment expressed by various individuals, most of whom are tied to the auto industry. When the shutdowns began to mount in 2008, many warned that a depression would follow if the government didn’t intercede and award them with carte blanche to remedy these “dire times.” As that dream has been adjusted to fit in with some rather painful realities, they are now denying and denigrating the positive changes that are beginning to emerge from other economic sectors. 

This past weekend, the daily paper from London, Ont., printed a business piece on the growth of technology in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Guelph triangle. It referred positively to the long-term evolution of the region, yet offered too many lamentations from union leaders and labour council executives about how manufacturing is being left behind, and technology is being put on a pedestal.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many of those in the manufacturing sector just don’t get it. The idea that graduating high school with a C average, skipping any kind of post-secondary school learning or training, and expecting consumers to cough up sufficient amounts of money every two years to enable you to make $30.00 per hour or more is nothing short of arrogant. That same sense of entitlement would be perfect if they were to enter politics once their careers tightening lug nuts and hammering fenders in place is rendered obsolete. Little wonder that farmers in parts of Ontario during the late 1990s and early 2000s found it so much easier to leave the farm and go to jobs requiring only 37.5 to 40 hours a week!

“That’s all I have to do?”

What the labour council execs should be doing is thanking the visionaries who are finding ways to resurrect these empty, derelict industrial plants. One complained that an automotive plant in Kitchener lost more than 2000 jobs when it closed earlier this spring. The fact that Research in Motion, also known as “That corporation run by the guy who wants to bring the Phoenix Coyotes to Canada,” is positioned to hire 3000 people in Waterloo, is mentioned in the article, yet dismissed by one executive because the jobs might not pay enough. “The fact of the matter is that a lot of people who used to make $30 an hour are now making $15,” he said.  

Again, no post-secondary school training or education, very little observance of supply-and-demand economics, and they want $60,000 annually?

Another executive said, “You can make a lot of money there (in K-W-Guelph) if you are a software programmer, but not so much if you clean floors.”

Yes, because heaven help us all if we’re required to obtain some sort of advanced learning as opposed to being content to push a broom for $30.00 an hour!
Do these people actually listen to themselves as they speak?

Manufacturing sector not alone
Unfortunately, the manufacturing sector is not alone. I have heard similar sentiments expressed in agriculture, particularly when adding value or increasing the value of crops is discussed. There are those, especially here in Ontario, who want $5.00 per bushel for corn, “just because.”  The fact that it is No. 2, yellow-dent corn with no real attributes is often lost on these individuals. No IP, no high-oil properties for feed or enhanced traits that might be useful in processing; just dry, grind-it-down-for-oil-starch-and-corn-syrup kernels of corn. 
Granted, I’m one of those types who stand on the outside looking in, but to me, there has to be a greater value in crops if growers want a higher price per bushel. If a producer wants to grow commodity crops, than commodity prices are all he can expect.

The great news is the innovators in agriculture are there already, just as they are in the technology sector, ready to take fields to that next level. Will they require higher skills or more-intense management plans? Yes, without question. Growing plant-based insulin or canola for industrial lubricants will undoubtedly take more care and consideration. And unlike Loblaws president Galen Weston and his attempts to ratchet-down prices for organic fruits and vegetables, growers should always – always – be properly compensated for higher levels of management. 

Eyes wide open -and forward
But we can’t denigrate or belittle those who are willing to venture beyond the conventional. Nor can we hope to stay mired in the past, wanting to continue down the same path that leads absolutely nowhere. The automotive sector wants to keep building vehicles that heed little or no attention to energy efficiency, and to continue building more of them. If they don’t sell by the end of the model year, they slash the prices so production costs exceed revenues.
That sounds to me like the fundamentals of any U.S. Farm Bill.

Improve production and efficiency and demand for products, then the price will come, maybe not overnight, but it will come, like it did with the organics (minus Mr. Weston’s best efforts, of course).

Increase production, lessen efficiency and the demand for your product, yet expect more money for poorer efforts?  That’s like doing the same thing, time after time, and expecting a different result.

I think Albert Einstein defined that as insanity.