Being a retiree on a fixed income the various ripples in the force surrounding the flow of income that keeps us going is of immense concern. There is a confluence of factors that appear to be primed to cause at least wide spread misery and at worse social unrest. As we cannot be unaware, staying alive means paying more and more, often for less and less. In some fortunate circumstances that simply means that we ratchet our salaries or per diem rates higher and higher. But for many this means being involved in a continual struggle to reduce — resource usage, activities including travel and so forth. The dream of a golden retirement is more and more a bitter illusion. How much worse for those trying to raise a family?
The Ontario election that concluded yesterday confirmed that these trends will continue. The Premier of Toronto will continue to lord it over the statutory have-nots in the rural areas. Service cuts will continue, costs keep soaring — and there is nothing that rural residents can do about it, as the local laws for managing grown and change were suspended. Oh, they have been pretty quiet about a lot of the changes — slowly cutting back subsidies to local governments, shutting down local health facilities and consolidating services into larger and larger catchment areas — too bad survivability means quick access. Better move back to Toronto and go back to work…
And let us not forget, should any of us chose to go back to work, that the MBA strategy of hire young, fire often, pay little is very much the order of the day. Our lifetime of experience is widely viewed as a liability — as we may remember what came before and have an opinion about what works and what doesn’t. There is a quote attributed to Andrew Carnegie, that if all his factories and wealth were taken from him but he was left with his staff he would be able to rebuild. The human capitol of a business or society at large is no longer held in such esteem save in some very rarefied realms (and how much of that is just mutual appreciation?).
In Ontario, wanting to work is now a revenue opportunity for the government. In essence one has to buy a license and pay an annual tax to be allowed to work in a wide variety of trades. I can understand electricians and construction workers. But I cannot understand call center staff, computer support technicans, animal herders and hairdressers — the list is quite unbelievable. If the intent were public safety they should be going after the hordes of semi-skilled folk who provide home services to the over-stretched residents of the GTA. My son the electrician would like to see that, I think it would be ok too. But instead their enforcement activities are directed at the easy targets — long established hair dressers. And no grandfathering… not enough revenue I am sure.
And for those who are currently working or hoping to work let us not forget the other part of this Dickensian labor market. Increasingly the risks are born by the job seeker, not the firm. Industry no longer recruits promising talent but expects the individual to invest time and large sums of money in preparing for a job that may or may not exist when they are done — ha, ha…fooled you. There was a time when job-specific training was paid for by the company, so the loss was on them if needs changed dramaticly, but no more. And if you do get a job the wages have been going down in real terms for many years. And don’t be surprised if you are expected to speculate as to whether you actually get work when you go in — you may just sit around for an hour or two and get sent home with nothing.
One hears of the increased intellectual demands of future jobs — and the relentless credential escalation that squeezes people out of the job market. An experienced therapist with decades of experience can no longer get a help line job — but a new grad with no work experience and a masters can. Other than the increased speculative investment one must make there is another problem — what happens to all the people who cannot? The jobs that once absorbed so many who did not have exceptional talents seem to have vanished — much exported abroad to foster development of another economy at the expense of our own. So what happens to these displaced people? Are the ‘yobs’ of the UK the prototype of the future?
Company pension funds have been fair game for years — just ask the Nortel retirees… (But that pension money was just sitting there…). And now governments are getting in on the game with the latest ruling on Detroit, no doubt soon to be emulated elsewhere. And in the US, the Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security for decades — better to spend that money on the war machine and the surveillance state. The conservative answer all along, for those who did not inherit a fortune from Daddy’s tar and feather business, is to privatize pensions and mandate larger contributions. But no longer just the conservatives — the Ontario Liberals want to start their own pension scheme, no doubt like the QPP. Given what has happened to other special purpose taxes, like the gas tax, that just vanished into general revenues one has to wonder if this is just another sneaky tax that will run like a Ponzi scheme for a few years and then collapse. CPP has done a pretty good job with their investments. Ornge and eHealth suggest the Ontario experience may be different.
But there is a small problem with privatizing pensions — i.e. turn retirement funds over to the same banks that have already demonstrated a prudent, steady hand on managing the flow of our money into their pockets. It is not at all clear as to how honest a game the market is — too many incidents of fraud, insider trading and phony analysis. Too many of us lost big chunks of our retirement funds when the markets melted after the last financial fiasco — institutionalizing this through rule of law only looks attractive for the banks and their kin.
So for the typical retiree, dependent upon what is left of their investments and their (taxable) government stipends, the future does not look promising. And worse for the generations yet to come. Both in the diminished resources available and the relentless escalation of costs — taxes, energy, food, services.
It does make me wonder — are we reaching the end of the whole concept of money and work as it has been known for millennia? Or government? The Greek model of democracy was based on citizens gathering together to discuss and decide on issues. The Normal Rockwell classic New England town meeting was similar. We are a very long way from that. In a sense, we have become more like Imperial Rome with the emperor, chosen by the senators, ruled until they stepped down or someone got sufficiently annoyed with them to initiate an Ides of March moment. Those allied with the winner got everything — taken from the losers. And lots of money changing hands in the background — to be revealed in a few decades to be sure. Watching the wind farm go up across the channel over the strenuous objections of the locals and wondering when the bulldozers will roll across the street from us — probably the last bird sanctuary in Ontario to be deliberately populated with wind turbines by non-resident corporations.
Increasingly, the vision of the future looks like the world imagined in 1984. ‘Imagine a boot smashing a human face forever’ Winston Smith was told. Makes me think of the sarcastic responses by the Energy Minister to questions around soaring power prices. Clearly that administration may demand tribute from all Ontario but it seems fairly clear that it only serves a much smaller group. For everyone else it looks pretty bleak.