As a sometimes visitor to developing world countries, it seems absurd on my return home that so many citizens of this extremely prosperous province and country seem convinced of our impending collective impoverishment.
These feelings are likely attributable to the fact that for decades now we have been targeted with messaging about hard economic times, spending restraint, and a supposed never-ending squandering of precious tax dollars.
The indignation expressed regarding dedicated bicycle lanes and the proposed covered bridge project are symptomatic of our economic trepidation.
American president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous utterance, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” might be instructive. Having convinced ourselves that we are on the edge of economic collapse, our collective fear has contributed significantly towards making such a collapse a reality.
In spite of our homeless citizens and the desperate conditions on many first nations reserves, as a society Canada is a very, very long ways from being poor.
Relative to all but a handful of similarly affluent Western countries, our public and private infrastructure, our vast resource base, and the education and skill level of our people are unprecedented in human history.
Having grown up in the good times of the 1950s and 60s post-war economic boom, my long-term observations leave me convinced that we are much, much more prosperous now than we were then — at least in terms of material wealth.
Houses are bigger and teeming with appliances, electronics and other consumer goods. There are flashy cars, big RVs, marinas filled with expensive pleasure boats, regular exotic holidays to any of the thousands of luxury resorts choking the world’s tropical beaches.
There are also big box stores overflowing with endless choices in whatever size, colour, style and price-range we might desire. This was not how it was in the so-called good times I grew up in and yet, as a society, we appear to feel infinitely more anxious about our economic situation than we did in the post-war golden era.
What, then, might explain this phenomenon?
The 1930s saw much of the world, including Canada and the U.S., staggering under the greatest economic meltdown of the modern era. From the depths of this depression, Canadians and Americans catapulted themselves into wartime economic and industrial powerhouses — and they did this within months.
Countries that were genuinely impoverished would never have been able to accomplish this turnaround, even in the face of the mortal danger presented by fascism. We had the resources and we had the will to shift a moribund economy into overdrive.
I suggest that a collective ‘can do’ mindset was the key ingredient in this change — the confidence that people had in themselves and their fellows as a society.
Covered bridges, bike lanes, art and music in our schools, these are quality of life expenditures that speak to the optimism and confidence of an enviably talented, resource-rich culture. We are that people. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.