Saturday, February 2, 2008

Scale Down Our Economy

Here at we are asking that our city promote development of walkable neighbourhoods and encourage everyone to participate in the cultural and social fabric of the community.

I want to believe everyone has our best interests at heart when they make plans and decisions that will affect us. After hearing the Windsor Essex Development Commission presentation Wednesday evening I got to wondering if some organizations are not as interested in being progressive and proactive. Perhaps they need the status quo just to be relevant. What if the future is radically different from the present? What if events take hold of the world that could undo everything that we take for granted? Below I have outlined three scenarios. Each could have devastating effects on the world economy and the Windsor-Essex regional economy; since it is biased toward export markets we would definitely be affected.

  1. Presently there is real concern in the world financial markets. The financial wizards invented investment vehicles out of worthless mortgages, collected huge commissions and got rich. Now we find out that these financial vehicles are nearly worthless. Billions of dollars of investments have disappeared already and more invented wealth is soon to follow. Add to this turmoil a U.S. Federal Government $9 trillion in the hole and their dollar losing value and you have the makings of a severe financial crisis.

  2. The evidence is mounting that world oil production is not going to meet global demand within a short period of time. Competition for oil and petroleum products will continue to put upward pressure on costs for transportation and industrial and agricultural chemicals. This competition may lead to resource wars but certainly will significantly impact global trade. Currently there is no alternative energy technology/infrastructure to replace gasoline and distillates on the required scale to maintain business-as-usual.

  3. The U.S. government has been taking increasingly aggressive positions around the world, moving its armies and navies into provocative postures and more or less causing a great deal of international tension. At some point it may very well happen that the world will find itself at war. Not just a regional conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan but a real war between two major armies and their allies shooting it out over oil, religion or politics.
    Economic recession/depression, peak oil or war, either of these will wreak havoc on an economy based on exports/global trade.

The Windsor Essex region is 70% - 85% reliant on exports of manufactured and agri-business products. What if instead our economy was more balanced between exports and domestic consumption? A more evenly balanced local economy would allow us to absorb the shocks of lower consumption of our products in export markets weakened by any of the scenarios I outlined above.

How can we develop a regional economy? In the event of one of the above problems we will eventually sort ourselves out. To do it proactively the only way to overcome the large corporations that have taken control of our economies is to lobby the Provincial and Federal governments to create trade rules that would enable this to happen. There is a precedent for this type of Federal law, CanCon. CanCon of course forced media outlets to provide Canadian programming and artists the opportunity to be heard and seen. What if retailers had to provide space for a percentage of regional agricultural products and consumer goods? Free trade agreements would prevent us from eliminating products from other jurisdictions but a CanCon law would not stop retailers from selling any product, it would merely offer us the choice to buy something from closer to home and put our money back into our own pockets.

Think of all the consumer goods that we use. In a previous era we had local economies and produced goods much closer to home. The companies were locally owned and the profits came back to benefit our communities. Somewhere along the way we were told globalization was better and more profitable. Somewhere along the way we lost the ability to provide for ourselves and less and less wealth was kept close to home. The effects are all around us. Sprawl, urban decay, apathy and disinterest in local life and culture.

I’d rather not wait for one of these scenarios to play out for things to change. I’d like to see local businesses and our Windsor Essex Development Commission, Windsor Chamber of Commerce and other interested groups and our politicians work together to develop a local economy that can sustain itself in a future fraught with challenges.

Even if none of these problems arise, would it be so bad to have a vibrant and diverse local economy?


Robert F.E. Scherer said...

Well, at least I know the true position of the people behind this blog. Besides hockey, anti-Americanism is Canadians' favorite sports. I thought protectionist nuances were in abundance on this blog; protectionism has always been a reliable theme. Said nuances have crept into the political campaigns of everyone from John McCain to the recently elected Kevin Rudd, the new Prime Minister of Australia.

Though I am a staunch Conservative (not of the religious persuasion), I sincerely believe that ALL political parties must address the problems inherent in globalization and the market system sooner rather than later. Although I have grown quite fond of inexpensive formal wear, I realize that cheap credit, low inflation and relatively low consumer taxes/prices aren't sustainable; central banks are exacerbating the unstable properties of said things. I wish I could invent liquidity for myself. Inevitably, taxes will have to be raised to potentially unprecedented levels to remedy the problems in the financial market and the consumer market. However, the real problem is this: WAGES AREN'T RISING! Raises in hourly pay are being erased by progressively larger contributions to retirement savings plans/personal investments, health care premiums and the like. Not everyone can be a teacher or a doctor or a government employee. Regardless, I don't think I should have to compensate for the poor choices made by irresponsible consumers; eventually, however, I will have to.

I don't think it's fair to criticize the United States without acknowledging the important role it plays in the world of innovation.
Many Canadians have adopted a protectionist/isolationist approach to domestic/world politics because they know Canada is capable of being virtually self-sufficient. How would Canada afford its allegedly great social programs if all levels of government adopted protectionist measures such as nationalizing oil and mineral industries? Taxes, taxes and more taxes. I agree that the masses must begin to adapt to smaller, more sustainable communities. However, I'm not the type of person who believes that governments can subsidize their way to prosperity. Realistically, many of the concepts and paradigms being promoted by this blog are almost wholly dependent upon subsidies.
Ultimately, the costs of living are only increasing.

Mark Boscariol said...

The position of people behind the blog varies with the people. I for one, absolutely love the good ol' U.S. of A. and am not a protectionist.

Other than my belief in the peak oil theory, I do not subscribe to the other two scenario's mentioned here.

We always hear the astronomical numbers of the Sub prime mess being costing the U.S. economy more than 1 trillion dollars but when you juxtapose that number against the fact the U.S. economy generates 13 trillion annually, the danger does not appear so catastrophic.

As for the superpower war scenario, I simply don't buy it. Its' about the oil, its always been about the oil, its about the oil for Russia, China and even Al Qaeda. No oil to be gained in a conflict between superpowers, only in wars over the countries who sit on the oil.

Peak oil is another scenario, we do know that the pressure from Saudi Arabia's oil reservesis declining. They add 5% per year capacity to their oil supply just to pump out the same amount of oil. Costs to develop new oil from either tar sands, artic or deep oil reserve's under the Gulf of Mexico dictates oil's price will always remain high and continue to rise.

I love the Good ol U.S.A.

Mark Boscariol said...

"The sky is falling" can be categorically stated as not being a premise of

Just thought I'd ad that disclaimer

Urbane Cyclist said...

I've never viewed scaledown as being protectionist nor anti-american. I'm sorry, Mr. Scherer, but I think you are allowing your geo-political sensitivities to incorrectly shade Mr. Coulter's article.

I do not view a municipality that wants to strengthen their local economy as "protectionist". Even if catagorically that is the definition, what would be wrong with it? What label do you use for a community that is sick and tired of it's elected leaders giving away our entire local economy to the mega-wholesalers with the result of dessimating the established balance of local, independant retailers we're strived so hard to build?

I, for one, appreciate Mr. Coulters article. It may be seen by some as being a little "over-the-top", but I am viewing it as worst-case scenario. The question I throw back to Mr. Coulter is - What do we do about it as a municipality? Because that is the level that scaledown is working at, that is the level that we can impose solutions.

I must add, though. There have been some dialogue addressing issues larger than just our little city of Windsor on Scaledown, and those I feel are out of place on this blog. I'm sure there are other sites where this line of discussion would be welcomed, but I just want to fix our city at the moment. When that's done, we can move on to the next experiment.

Robert F.E. Scherer said...

Ostensibly, my attempt at humor has failed miserably.

Boomer said...

Robert, you already pay for poor choices made by irresponsible consumers.

The most costly being the ever increasing network of road systems to accommodate greater amounts of vehicular traffic even though our population is only marginally increasing. Lets consider all the external costs, such as policing and emergency services, accidents, infrastructure, hospitalization due to accidents and pollution related illness, higher rates of diabetes due in part to our ever decreasing activity levels (half of all a child's active life in the 70"s was attributed to walking to school and diabetes is the number one cost to the health care system), rehab, emergency and doctor visits, post accident surgeries, billions in subsidies to the oil industry and water table losses from industrial oil production which results in local farmers from Alberta being put out of business and environmental degradation of water air and land, we won't even talk about global warming. When these subsidies and costs are factored in driving is the number one cost to society at large.

These costs would be greatly reduced if our economies were more local and our entire economies would be more stable as the small business model doesn't rely on the eggs in one basket scenario we currently have with giant corporations and banking institutions that if damaged beyond repair could cripple the entire economy. I would gladly subsidize more local economies as I know the payoff would be one hundred fold in community independence, returned investment from local business owners and healthier living environment.

I will also only touch on the fact that corporations are allowed to use subsidies in third world countries, such as slave and child labour with abhorrent working conditions, non existent or non-enforced environmental regulations as well as no workplace safety or ergonomic standards. I wouldn't need protectionism for my job if corporations around the world had to meet our labour, safety and environmental standards before bringing products into this country. I wouldn't want my children working 16 hour shifts in a poorly lit, unsafe, unhealthy workplace with no safety or environmental regulations so why would I expect someone else's child work under these conditions.

In a nutshell subsidies exist whether you see them or not, I don't hear anyone singing the praises of a fully private road system and very few people are talking about including externalized costs into the price of products. The most fair, non-subsidized form of capitalism would be to move towards these types of systems, is this what you would want to see? Because then the consumer would be paying the full cost of goods and services instead of you the tax payer!

dave said...

Here's an interesting thought. Why don't we have more local produce in our city? Considering that Essex county has the most greenhouses in N. America why is it that I can only buy Mexican or American produce in the winter and why is more than 50% of it still here in the summer?

Mark Boscariol said...

Ah, Robert, I guess we all need to lighten up. I'm a bit defensive on James post because of my reason d'etre.

The left has always claimed ownership of issues pertaining to the environment and culture.

I believe the left has grossly mismanaged those issues and that those issues belong to the mainstream.

In my view the left has always used fear as their main tactic just as the right uses it to send us to war.

Naomi Cambell wrote a book about the Shock Doctrine which I believe is hypocritical as the Left uses the same tactics. Katrina and social housing is a prime example.

Thats why we're bringing Chris Turner. Because our goal is to inspire people in Windsor to do great things simply because being great is attractive and profitable.

James Coulter said...

Where to begin…

1. There are four individuals posting to this blog. We all have our own ideas, politics and temperaments. Please, do not paint this blog with one wide brush.
2. This particular post of mine came from a sense of unease that came over me after hearing the presentation by the Windsor Essex Development Commission and a subsequent e-mail exchange.

We are working here to localize our communities. I think everyone at SDW wants more local businesses to succeed. The next logical step is a regional economy that will support local businesses and provide locally produced goods to the marketplace. Am I asking for protection? I mentioned Canadian Content with respect to the music and television industry because that little bit of protectionism thirty years ago has allowed the Canadian Music and Television Industry to grow and thrive. Canadians still watch U.S. television shows and movies and listen to U.S. radio stations and bands. But, now there is a wider choice of Canadian Content than ever before. By making some space in the Big Box stores and chain grocery stores for local goods, people will have more options and maybe in time these local goods will overtake some of the non-local merchandise and local economies will be able to grow.

Of the three “doom and gloom” scenarios I used, two have precedent in world history. There have been major wars and depressions. Peak Oil is a subject still open to debate however there is growing consensus that the competition for oil will increase price volatility and may cause shortages. Any of these things may play out or they may not. As I said at the end of my post, “Even if none of these problems arise, would it be so bad to have a vibrant and diverse local economy?”

Boomer said...

I'm not quite certain how peak oil is still open for debate, it was predicted by very smart people in the late sixties that it would happen in the states and in the seventies it did occur, so there is historical precedent. people were pulling guns on gas station attendants for crying out loud just to fill their tanks. We just don't seem to want to learn from the past, simple math on oil usage and proven reserves is all that's needed to convince me of peak oil and we cannot extract every drop, there's still oil in the U.S., it's just much more expensive to extract and requires far more energy per barrel.

Adriano Ciotoli said...

I am in Ottawa, ON at the moment and let me tell everyone, if you haven't been here before, it has blown me away.

First thing I noticed was, despite the massive snow storm, the sidewalks were bustling with people. Many carrying groceries!

I am currently staying in the Byward Market area and EVERYTHING is within walking distance. Museums, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Sparks Street and Byward Market are exactly what I see our downtown has the potential on becoming. I strongly suggest everyone research it or even come up and check it out yourself!

Urbanrat said...

I for one have come to like the issues and the concerns that SDW, Chris Schnurr and the other bloggers are bringing to the forefront and keeping them there! This city needs a space for an open dialogue.

Right off the top I will tell you that am a big fan of late Jane Jacobs and current fan of Richard Florida, ever since I read her books twenty some years ago and have been a quiet urbanists ever since.

Act locally, think globally. is phrase that has been over worked and used but not actively followed. SDW is trying to do this. At one time in this city and the county's small villages, we were fairly self sufficient, from growing and processing our own food, making our own diary products, our own furniture and on and on. Ever look at a map of Windsor and the county towns, they're about eight miles apart, from any point. A farmer could travel to a market four miles one way and back in a day without to much trouble. Thus manufactured goods were bought and sold locally and nobody really commuted anywhere.

Everyone here today has brought good ideas and concerns to this blog, Robert at his attempt to humour us, we can't change our geographical location nor the situation in which we live with it for good or bad. As Windsorites we have always had the unique experience and ad/disvantages of living next door to the United States, than any other city in Canada and what happens in the US seems to impact us quicker than and on more personal level faster than anywhere else. We have over the last hundred and fifty years have greatly benefitted living from that location but things are changing dramatically for us and they will never be the same again.

So now is the time to act and not with the buzz of branding that our mayor wants. I personally think that we have to bottom out first, much like the city of Pittsburgh did when the US steel industry totally disappeared from that city due to cheap imports. And when the smoke has cleared see what is left of the carcass to brand and build from there.

A smaller city, more dense city is the way to go, so I am in total agreement with SDW. We must find a way to assist the mice of this city to stay and develop here. What is the use of having a new engineering department anywhere, if we don't have the devices in place to keep those ideas here. Going for handouts to senior governments isn't the answer, the city/county/university should work together to fund those ideas here first, then maybe the other governments.

I have an aside to the above, this city must invest in education like it has never done before, right from day care to the graduate level and demonstrate to the populace what an education means to them, their families and this city. This city never has paid much attention to education as long as the big three could absorb the majority of under educated and under skilled workers..until now! Our powers that be in this city should be addressing the shameful statistic that of all major cities in Canada, Windsor has a literacy rate of 27%,

If we are going have what this blog and others are working hard to keep in front of the people of Windsor, then education of all types (formal, consumer etc.) must be in the forefront, if we are going to build a better smaller city.

Adriano, it is nice to see that things haven't changed that much in Ottawa, when I lived there in the 80's. I lived on the other side of the market closer to the canal and walked to all my contract jobs in Ottawa. The articulated buses and public transportation system, the bike paths for commuting, the walkability all make Ottawa a good city for a pedestrian.

Robert F.E. Scherer said...

Boomer: Here's what I wrote: "Regardless, I don't think I should have to compensate (i.e. "stimulus bills" and refunds for people who live in houses they shouldn't live in) for the poor choices made by irresponsible consumers; eventually, however, I will have to." Here's what you wrote: "Robert, you already pay for poor choices made by irresponsible consumers."
I like how you just naturally applied a broad interpretation to my comments. Please reread my post to get a better idea of the context I was speaking in, i.e. inane lending practices. I don't think I should have to compensate for people who defaulted on mortgages for houses they never really needed. Do you know what I mean by compensate? I, like the people behind Scale Down, believe that no one really needs an immoderate house. You misinterpreted my comments.
My position: I think many of the ideals created and promoted by the "urban living movement" aren't affordable. I can't convince myself to support things that require buckets of tax dollars to materialize. Much of this whole debate is about convincing governments to use tax dollars to transform our paved landscapes into walkable communities. I think the debate becomes too complex to be productive when some urban living proponent begins to equate subsidizing the creation of walkable communities with government support for the arts, the environment and "culture".

Sporto said...

Robert, you lost me. I'm a believer in the public realm and that its the citizens right and responsibility to have a decent public realm and quality of life. I believe the arts and culture and enviro are part of that public realm. Therefore, it's the gov't duty to carry out that responsibility. If the gov't isn't funding public realm items, just what are they doing?

James Coulter said...

I can't speak for the others at SDW but I for one am conservative when it comes to the public purse.
I am interested in the SDW mission because I believe that our current situation is not sustainable. At present we are not paying the full cost to build and maintain infrastructure. I seriously feel we will have little choice but to re-localize and create a more stable system of living. I am here to encourage the transition to a "slower", scaled-down future so that when one of my "senarios" plays out we will have a much better chance of keeping things going.

The economic hammer hasn't fallen yet (at this time the Dow has slipped over 300 points) the energy/oil hammer hasn't fallen yet nor has anyone done anything particularly stupid in or around the Persian Gulf. But history has a bad habit of repeating itself and when it does, well I want us all to be able to cope.

I intend to pursue the issue of a local economy in my next post (stay tuned) because a local economy will keep the wealth in the region. At one time it was the wealthy merchants and industrialists that provided many of the public ameneties such as museums, libraries and theatres and parks. They did these things because they felt a real need to give back to their community. (Tony Toldo is a good Windsor example.)

Urbane Cyclist said...

OK. This is great - I love where this is going. So, at one point in time, pre-indstrial revolution, let's say, it was the municipal governments responsibility to provide for the provision and maintenance of "The Commons" Residents of "said" municipality lead modest lives; small house, stable, yard for a garden, etc. The government provided much of what would lead to a high quality of life for its residents by providing recreational activities, transportation network between these modest homes in walkable communities. The church tended to provide a social framework as well (the worship of "God" tended to be secondary) that was heavily relied upon for pretty much everything from barter to hooking-up-and-getting-married.

Today, we have privatized pretty much everything that the government and church provided us. We each have our own movie theatre in our basements and our own market in our freezer. We feel very little responsibility to what is considered "the commons" any longer, so we let it fall into disrepair.

The commons used to be where we lived, now the commons is what we travel through to get to where we live. This is a major problem that will take a long time to fix.