Under the thumb of big numbers

See if this number means anything: $42 trillion, increasing by thousands per second.

See if this number means anything: $42 trillion, increasing by thousands per second.

That’s the debt owed by the world’s governments. The Economist magazine tracks its rise online with a global debt clock.

We are supposed to be scared by that long snake of digits, but it causes most people to yawn, or scratch their heads and turn to hockey or YouTube.

You couldn’t say the numbers boggle the mind. They don’t enter the mind. Even one trillion is an empty idea — the unit followed by 12 zeroes. The distance to the nearest galaxy would be more exciting, if I could remember it.

My late wife Peggy, who worked for a while as a secretary for the Canadian Law Commission, a think tank killed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, once carried a visiting baby around the commission’s library, telling the baby in a soothing tone about the commission’s work and the contents of the books.

The global public debt means as much to the average person as the Law Commission’s work meant to the baby. Less, probably.

Peggy’s account did have the effect of a lullaby, assuring the baby that everything was okay, or soon would be after some changes in policy and jurisprudence.

On the other hand, the Economist’s online debt clock is a faint, theoretical wake-up call — a call that most people ignore. They sleep through the signal, and continue their personal dreams or nightmares.

“Ah, but you should awaken to the danger of the debt, if you know what’s good for you,” the money-pundits say.

Should we? Fully alert people may see a financial landscape that is much different to the one the conservative or neo-liberal dollar-gurus want us to see.

What is this money that we owe collectively? Money used to be coins minted from copper, silver and gold, plus the bits of printed paper that certified the existence of specific quantities of treasure held in vaults.

Not any more. Coins are small change. Serious money is just a mass of paper and electronics that the government and commercial banks and business corporations conjure up together.

They order us to accept whatever tiny or bloated share of that alleged money we can squeeze out, and exchange the computer symbols for groceries and other stuff, and trade some of it for human and environmental services and infrastructure — big subsidies to automobile roads, sketchy aid to buses and railways.

According to the official word from Ottawa, the flow of the “free market” has swept us into economic trouble, but helpful restraint by a government in Canada has saved this country from the worst of it. The implication is that Canadians will prosper as long as we slash social and environmental programs.

The “free market” is portrayed as a relentless force of nature resembling Egypt’s Nile river, where smart observers of the river and their descendants, by relative accuracy in estimating this year’s deposit of river mud and the abundance of grain, were able to transform themselves into priest-kings and living gods.

Unlike the Nile, however, the “market” turns out to be a system partly handmade and controlled by money twisters and politicians.

Social policy scholar Chuck Collins recently pointed out that 25 of the U.S.A.’s largest corporations paid more to their CEOs and more to lobbyists than they paid in taxes. They dodged taxes on much of their profit by hiding it in tax havens, from Bermuda to the Cayman Islands.

Environmental thinker Guy Dauncey in Econews urges closing of tax havens and adding a tax on junk food, to increase annual world revenues by up to $1.4 trillion. Great idea.


—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.


Just Posted

‘More animals could have a chance:’ Victoria Humane Society in desperate need of a home

Animal rescue currently has 163 animals in foster and volunteer homes

Free-B Film Festival celebrates 20th anniversary

Head to Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park to see some family favourites on the big screen

Central Saanich accused of not following Climate Emergency declaration with urgent action

Motion to research climate response options and costs rejected then rescheduled in tense meeting

Join North Saanich invasives removal and experience three key benefits

Friends of North Saanich Parks says July 27 clear-up will be rewarding as well as green

Colwood field lacrosse camp aims to get more kids involved

Victoria Field Youth Lacrosse hopes to inspire future athletes

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

Vancouver Island teens missing after vehicle found ablaze near Dease Lake, BC

RCMP say a body discovered nearby not one of the missing teens

A year later, ceremony commemorates victims of the Danforth shooting

It’s the one-year anniversary of when a man opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself

Japanese Canadians call on B.C. to go beyond mere apology for historic racism

The federal government apologized in 1988 for its racism against ‘enemy aliens’

B.C. VIEWS: NDP pushes ahead with Crown forest redistribution

This isn’t the time for a radical Indigenous rights agenda

Two dead in two-vehicle crash between Revelstoke and Golden

RCMP are investigating the cause of the crash

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Most Read