by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Since the brutal market melt-down in 2008, when years of accumulated savings of many people simply evaporated over-night, there has been a pervasive and unsettling sense of being under siege. Like any successful military operation, the attack came unexpectedly and lethally, causing a feeling of instant isolation and surrender. The spin-offs of the initial calamity include imperceptible recovery, continued unemployment, forced re-thinking of the worth of a university education, the growing need to abandon hopes of early retirement (or worse, the need to return to work), a stepped-up acceptance of the diminution of the value of money, an acknowledgement of the pragmatism of raising the age of right to Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, the paradox of low interest rates and commensurate laughable return on investment and a general loss of any candidacy for entitlement.
Nipping at our North American heels are the developing economies on the other side of world, fueled by huge numbers of rising, hard-working people who are prepared to do it all for less. And of course some of our own people here at home are prepared to let the foreigners try. While one wishes to engage in a desirable discussion of free trade and reciprocity, on the balance the conversation does very little to improve the lives of those whose prospects are being shut down on domestic turf.
Suddenly everyone is concerned about when and where it will all end, not exactly the makings of a good night’s sleep. Until now the chatter normally embraces only the “r” word (recession) but not the “d” word (depression). This sustained worrisomeness however assumes gigantic proportions for those who have yet to address head-on the dissolution of all that they have. For example the unbelievable possibility that, with a mortgage renewal on the horizon, the value of the property may now be less than the high-ratio debt originally financed. Even if one is capable of hurdling that particular barrier there are yet other traps ahead if one’s employment is threatened at the very time when one’s burgeoning family is spending more and more. The combination of excessive need and historically low interest rates often propels otherwise well-minded people into the assumption of hitherto unimaginable debt for the sake of keeping one’s head above water.
As a result of wide-spread uncertainty, we gradually adjust our mind to being interminably on edge. And because so much of our future depends apparently on the doubtfulness of economic recovery in other parts of the world, we are virtually cut-off from the life-lines of supply for our personal resurrection. We may as well capitulate for all we’re able to control it. There is perpetually the haunting recollection that no amount of prognostication is of any use whatever especially as no measure of intelligence did anything to foretell the disaster in the first place. If they’re so smart on Wall Street, why didn’t they see it coming? Or did they, but they just didn’t give a damn for the likes of us, the modern commoners?
Thirty years ago it would have been unthinkable that economic conditions were universally bad. As the saying goes, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”. Certainly former skyrocketing interest rates of 18% per annum were a hardship for entrepeneurs and new home owners, but it was by contrast a hay-day for bankers and their investors. But present conditions are indiscriminately affecting not only the young but also the monied older people and the greying baby-boomers. For one reason or another we’re all under the gun.
Changing the course of habits is never easy. As with the formulation of any answer, one must first know the question. Submerged as we are in the poisoned ballast-water of global doom and gloom it is uncertain wherein lies the path to resurgence and stability. Meanwhile we awaken daily instead to a spreading malignancy of disaffection, apprehension and forlornness.
Nonetheless as in any battle, as beleaguering as it may be, we will eventually emerge from the siege though likely not unscathed. The idea that successive generations will enjoy the same level of prosperity and accumulation as many of us had come to expect is waning by the hour. This is not a bad thing in my opinion. If money were the answer to all our problems there’d be no “poor little rich girl”. A reassessment of our primary needs and the application of some blunt truths may in the end have the comforting effect of relief and thankfulness, dispelling those debilitating feelings of scrutiny and recklessness when formerly under attack.