Wednesday Night #1144

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Introduction
The number of guests was restrained but their quality, logic and diversity of opinion made the evening memorable. This being so, the text is brief, permitting the quotes of the evening to recount the discussion and debate much more eloquently. As very little consensus appears to have been attained, no conclusions have been drawn in this report.

The Economy
Investors are patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop. They perceive high price/earning ratios, rising unemployment, especially in the United States, very low interest rates, unrelentingly high U.S. government deficits and the allegation of the artificial propping up of the economy until the November elections. Jobs are being exported and foreign countries are supporting the U.S. dollar in an attempt to maintain the value of their own currencies. Is there another bubble about to burst creating a big pop that will be heard throughout the world? A more sober view is that with pre-tax corporate profits expected to be up by 11% in the U.S. and 8% in Canada this year, while some will collapse, value stocks will emerge.
Locally, there is some fear that the housing market, now growing rapidly will suddenly collapse as happened in Toronto in 1986. However, with Montreal buildings selling below the cost of new construction, this view appears to be unrealistic.

We still sell buildings in Montreal under their brick value so where is the bubble?
My sense of the whole thing is that we are in uncharted seas and we cannot predict flows in the currency markets, currency flows. That is how the U.S. is funding itself. It’s like the Atlantic and Pacific tides affecting the whole world. We are in uncharted seas. When interest rates rise, housing prices will fall and we will go into a whole new cycle.
Globalization and the Internet are changing the world. … Jobs are leaving the U.S. Canada, the U.K. and Europe.
It’s the first time in cyclical history that the recovery is a non-employment recovery.
Income is being shifted to foreign countries and we don’t know how far that will go, but if it goes far enough, the U.S. will face some very serious challenges. Some may again shout for protectionism.
Interest rates and unemployment stimulate interest in government.
I am more concerned about the bunch that are in (U.S. Congress) than I am about the Democrats.
I’m for free trade, but what do you tell someone in softwood lumber who has lost his job? We should talk about fair trade rather than free trade.”
Labour is up against world labour.
Our educational system was designed in the industrial revolution to follow orders. Now we are in the age of ideas.
Exported jobs create (foreign) consumers.
It is important to keep in mind if you want to make money, go to china, but China is suffering innumerable problems … no rule of law … in transition.
China is a massive country in economic development that will take place over two or three generations.
The Chinese and Japanese are supporting the U.S. dollar to prop up their own currencies.
Currencies are one of the most difficult things to forecast. Most experts are wrong.

Political sentiment
On the political scene, with the rise of a more affluent society, there appears to be a universal shift towards the political right. There are those who even fear the possibility of a rising shift towards protectionism in the U.S., despite the destructive consequences of protectionism in the past. In Canada, there is some fear that the traditional left-of-centre Liberal government is going down that path whilst the so-called “united right” seems unable to shake its western redneck image. Experienced commentators remind us that historically the further any political party in Canada moves from the centre, the more likely it is to lose influence.
The following quotes, as always without attribution, indicate clearly the diversity of political opinions this evening.

I think that it’s wonderful that we are back to the three viable (federal political) parties.
The (political) situation (at the federal level) is disastrously worse than it ever was.
Canadians have always voted for a moderate centrist party.
The Liberals are collecting all the extremists under the tent. In four years, Martin will bring the party too far to the right and a vacuum will be created.
We will turn farther to the right when young people continue to pay over fifty percent (of their earnings) in income tax.
Charest was a ‘bleu.’ You don’t change your political stripe overnight without explanation.
Jean Charest was a great hope, but he was absent for four years. … You have to speak up for what you believe. Being absent doesn’t count.
When you see the sophistication of the U.S. in choosing their leaders, the only criticism you have is the amount of money they have to raise. The way we elect our leaders in Canada has nothing to do with grass roots.
Throughout the world, there is a movement to the right.
Unite the Right’ won’t fly.
In the next ten to fifteen years, there is no position for women in politics.
If you are succeeding in your professional life, you won’t go into politics.

Healthcare

In the debate in rising health care cost, labour is not the major cost.
Medicare is controlling cost by inconvenience.
Medicare used to be ineffective and safe. It is now effective and dangerous.

It might appear logical to some that the debate on the delivery of health care should focus less on money and more on the effect of health care on the providers. After all, Medicare is a form of insurance. If that is the case, logic would demand the increase in premiums rather than the cutting of services to meet shortfalls. While we debate the pros and cons of a two-tier health care system and costs arising out of extra-salarial benefits to employees in the health care system, we tend to ignore the effects on the professionals working in that system. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, although today’s tools did not exist to cure illness and prolong life, health care professionals were proud to be working with patients, sharing their burden and helping them return to healthy, productive life. Today, the professionals are overburdened and stressed, an indication of which is the small number of physicians who encourage their children to follow in their footsteps,- and the large percentage of those suffering from chronic low back pain.
In a sense, the history of the stethoscope is a metaphor for the evolution of medical care. Initially, the heart was listened to directly by the physician placing his ear on the patient’s chest. As a response to the perceived sensitivity of female patients, the stethoscope was born, a short wooden tube, approximately ten centimetres in length. In the first half of the nineteen hundreds, there was no medication that could cure disease. About the only useful drugs were aspirin, opium and its derivatives, barbiturates, digitalis and quinine. It was not unknown for a physician to stay up with his patient throughout the night, although he had very little in the way of tools to combat illness other than to relieve pain and to comfort the patient, only to return to his normal workday without having slept. Radiology was half a century old and the stethoscope was perhaps half a metre long. Suddenly new drugs, sulfonamides, phenothiazines, antibiotics, curative medications appeared, ultrasound, radiation therapy, computerized tomography, Medicare, all of which distanced the physician from his patient, while the stethoscope grew too long to conveniently hang from the neck, but was now draped around it. Other health care workers and professionals found that they too, had become more part of the system, their job having evolved from one requiring intellectual skills to one relying more on technical skills. It would appear that this – the evolution of stethoscope length – must be addressed if the continued success of our system of quality universal health care is to be assured.
N.B. The preceding two paragraphs were inspired by the Wednesday Night debate, but represent more the reflections of the scribe than they do the expressed opinions of the guests.

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

Politics with Heward Grafftey
We have survived the shenanigans of the Super Bowl (are there any Wednesday Nighters who actually watch it?) and the $2.4 trillion budget proposal from George Bush, with numbers that are expected to project a $521 billion deficit for this year. Then, we cocked an ear to the Speech from the throne and to Paul Martin‘s first speech in the House of Commons as prime minister, wherein he promised continued fiscal responsibility, as well as money for a new education grant for low-income children and the creation of a new program to encourage democracy in developing nations. (Not a whole lot of surprises there).
Finally, Super Tuesday and, as we write, Kerry maintains his lead in Missouri and Delaware, Edwards in South Carolina.
Oh yes, we also attended the reception at the St. James Club for Belinda: she came, we saw, she did not conquer, at least, not in our view.
To comment on these events, we are pleased to have a true political warhorse, Heward Grafftey, who has been there and done that more times than most of us have voted.
And possibly, Stephen Harper may pay us a surprise visit if he can find his way from the spaghetti restaurant on the West Island where he is to be feted.

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