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

Royal Bay drama students help police train for emergency

Students helped train crisis negotiators by acting out scenarios

Westhills proposes picnic area, pier and beach by Langford Lake

The public amenity contribution is part of a proposed deal for a waterfront restaurant

Victoria BC Transit driver taken to hospital after assault

Driver attempted to stop an altercation between two people on the bus

How a scrawny kid from Oak Bay bulked into one of rugby sevens’ best

Doing it for Dylan, Oak Bay’s Connor Braid at the top of his game

CRD’s 2019 financial plan includes 23 per cent increase for capital projects

Housing, health care and wastewater projects included in 2019 plan

VIDEO: Restaurant robots are already in Canada

Robo Sushi in Toronto has waist-high robots that guide patrons to empty seats

POLL: When do you think the next major earthquake will hit Vancouver Island?

According to seismologists, Vancouver Island is overdue for a magnitude 7 earthquake.… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of March 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

View Royal council to discuss proposed 3.5% tax increase tonight

Budget open house to directly precede the council meeting

Permit rejected to bring two cheetahs to B.C.

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

UBC study says some people didn’t recognize the emergency signal

Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ watchdog to step down

The association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of her office

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from B.C. roaster recalled due to botulism scare

“If you purchased N7 Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from Cherry Hill … do not drink it.”

Short list for new gnome home includes Parksville, Coombs

Five potential locations have been chosen by Howard’s owners who will decide Tuesday

Most Read