Occupy Toronto is a dud, so far.
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, about 1,500 people were stationed in St. James Park, and I’d say one-third of them had to have been media types. More cameras were in hand than at a TIFF after-party as protesters carried signs declaring doom for banks and unity for the 99 percent of the world that doesn’t control the majority of wealth.
The photo opportunities were plenty. The advancement of practical solutions? Not so much. From the handful of people I spoke to in the park, the perception seems to be that workers need to take over the economic system, a view that’s out of step with the beliefs of most Canadians and one that shows a lack of acceptance that extreme socialism has failed just as the extreme form of capitalism practiced in the United States has collapsed.
At the north end of the park behind St. James Cathedral, one speaker after another took to a microphone to deride an economic system that benefits a small number of oligarchs who have made it nearly impossible for all others to attain an education or a home without being shackled with debt. Yet, calls for cannibalizing the rich, re-distributing the wealth through thievery and usurping Parliament Hill don’t do anything to solve the problem. Worthwhile prescriptions for the economy were present by some speakers, including a man who pointed out that Argentina bounced back from a disaster far worse than what the U.S. and even Greece is going through. In 2002, 60 percent of Argentines were living below the poverty line, now the level is 30 percent (it’s 9.4 percent in Canada) and unemployment is at less than 8 percent. Argentina’s rebound wasn’t simple, but it provides evidence that the world is not doomed and that economies do resuscitate, even if the rebound is painfully slow.
What no one at Occupy Toronto and few in the global movement have addressed, however, is the real threat to wages in the western world: The shift in economic clout to China and India. What do you do when suppliers divert their focus from you to a market on the other side of the world? You watch jobs go where the consumers are, you see salaries shrink here while over there they rise, you discover your skills need to compete against billions of people and not just whoever’s in your local job market.
That hard-to-locate hope everyone in the Occupy Together movement wants for future generations exists in Shanghai and Goa. The truth is, the folks at St. James Park who don’t like capitalists are learning that capitalists care less and less for us too. We don’t have the projected spending power of China and India. Our best chance for the future is to accept that we must service those two countries with energy, agriculture and technology.
All the Guy Fawkes in Toronto, New York and London can band together and tear down capitalism and it still won’t change the law of supply and demand.
WHY THE SMALL TURNOUT?
It’s cold, windy and wet, which probably dampened the number of people who came to the protest on Saturday. The other cause for the anemic numbers, though, has to do with the relative health of the Canadian economy.
“We don’t have financial institutions in Canada that failed, that cost taxpayers money,” finance minister Jim Flaherty told the CBC. “The situation in Canada, thank goodness, is better than that and our unemployment rate is significantly better than that of the Americans.”
Unemployment in Canada is 8 percent compared to 9.6 percent in the States, which most agree is a conservative number. While our debt burden is increasing, it’s not as frighteningly high as it was in the U.S. before the 2008 real-estate bust. Having reputable banks and being the largest supplier of oil to the U.S. also helps limit our risk of a severe downturn but that doesn’t mean we don’t face calamity.
As mentioned earlier this week, our health-care system is in awful shape and it’s what Canadians should be fighting to fix. Maybe that subject will receive more attention as the protests continue (they’re scheduled to run indefinitely based on the calendar on the Occupy Toronto site).
SOLVING THE CRISIS
“I think part of the solution is to ban short-selling,” I told one of the protesters on Saturday.
His response: “What’s short-selling?”
If you want to bring down the capitalists, you really should learn their methods. Read this article about who is behind the financial meltdown by University of Ottawa professor Michel Chossudovsky, who points out how much power short-selling gives big money and how that power can then be used to manipulate global markets.
Without short-selling, there’s less fear from investors and less control of the markets for hedge-fund managers, some of whom charge as much as 15 percent in commission fees and provide services to those extremely wealthy people who the Occupy groups want to topple.
The financial crisis is a crisis of confidence. Remove a significant cause of fear and you spur investment and job creation. Thoughts?
Copyrighted photos by Julia Pelish Photography