Thursday, February 4, 2010


We have a new game in our house. It’s called Finding Stuff That’s Made in Canada. It's not quite like looking for a needle in a haystack, but it is getting close.
When I was growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, almost everything was made close to home. I grew up in “The Steel City” of Hamilton Ontario and in the farming area nearby.
My Dad worked at Westinghouse, a gigantic factory occupying several city blocks. Almost everything that used electricity in our house came from Westinghouse. Most of our neighbours worked at jobs that involved the making of something, everything from soap to steel.
A variation of the Find Stuff That’s Made in Canada game is Find Stuff That Used to Be Made in Canada. It’s too easy, as long as you have some stuff that’s more than a few decades old. In our house, I start with the piano, the label says made in Toronto. Can you image? At one time there were dozens of piano manufacturers in Canada.
So what? Some would say. As a maker of things I lament the loss of industry in Canada and the fact that anything that can be done cheaper somewhere else will be done somewhere else.
Some people suggest, only somewhat confidently, that only the “grunt work” is being exported and that the “brain work” will continue to be done here, the distinction in their minds being work done by the brain verses work done by the body, as though such a distinction existed. The truth is that all work that can be done cheaper elsewhere will be done elsewhere, and in fact it is the brainwork that is much more easily exported as there are hardworking, well educated, capable people in very low wage countries able to do this work with far less infrastructure and the final product, unlike furniture and appliances can be imported electronically rather than on green house gas spewing container ships.
In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s the standard of living in Canada was high. Families were larger and there was often only one person employed. Houses cost a fraction of what they do now and many more people lived in houses with yards and gardens, garages and workshops. Today our standard of living compared to many places on the planet is still high, but some costs like housing are gigantic. We pay much more for much less. Many families need two members working full time to get by. Our standard of living, to a large extent is dependent on the cheapness of imported goods and services.
What will happen, if for some reason such as the rising cost of energy, or social advances in developing countries, these cheap imported products are no longer available to us and we have to go back to making these things here? Long after we have ditched all the shop classes and trades training, long after we have turned all the factories into condos and the farm land into sub-divisions?
The only thing we will still be able to source from lower wage countries will be legal, accounting, design and consulting services.

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