Designated Driver of North America

Boring is good

You know that little blurb on the “About” section in the corner of my blog page? Where it says the following?

“Canada is the Designated Driver of North America. The U.S. runs around excitedly blowing things up, while we follow behind with the car keys, shaking our heads.”

I’m really not kidding about it. Canada tends to be the kind of reserved relative with the thick glasses, who watches the highly caffeinated United States bouncing around the kitchen, before we roll our eyes and shake out our newspaper and bury our noses in it, trying to drown out the enthusiastic commotion across the breakfast table as we eat our bran flakes. Then the U.S. goes out to the garage and either cranks up the rock music or cranks out some new flashy gadget on the work table, while we put on our jacket and go to our accounting job.

Thing is…it’s paid off.

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

The legendary editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, once held a “Boring Headline Contest” and decided that the winner was “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” Twenty-two years later, the magazine was rescued from its economic troubles by a Canadian media company, which should have taught us Americans to be a bit more humble. Now there is even more striking evidence of Canada’s virtues. Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it’s Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world. America’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

As it turns out, according to Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, Canada’s banks are standing up rather nicely in the current economic crisis, while those of the U.S., Great Britain, and well, everywhere else, are collapsing or pretty close to it.

And that wild, loose mortgage scheme devised by the flashy American risk-taking capitalist crowd, that scheme that brought the whole world down? The rationale for it was that it was supposed to help average Americans own their own homes. Yet Canadian banks, plodding along in their steady way, created a slightly better percentage of homeowners in this country — without that risk and flash.

(I would add a note that I bet some of the credit for this might go to Paul Martin. Remember when several Canadian banks wanted permission to amalgamate, so they could play finance with the big boys in the rest of the world? I bet they’re glad they weren’t allowed now.)

I might beg to differ with Mr. Zakaria on one thing. There may be some immigrants benefitting from a Canadian welcome, in places like that Microsoft research centre he mentions near the end of his article. But it’s a well-known phenomenon that after we let all those immigrants with degrees into Canada, based on the points system, we find ourselves with the most highly-educated cab drivers and convenience store operators in the world.

So some parts of the story may not be quite as rosy as Mr. Zakaria paints them. But on the whole, he’s right: Canada’s reserve and scepticism about the get-rich-quick schemes of the Americans is exactly the right attitude. In the long run, it’s what is going to save us while the U.S. at least partly goes down in flames.

And yes — the United States of America would do well, for once, to listen and learn from someone else. A little humility never hurt anyone. And boring is good.

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February 21, 2009 Posted by | * Canadian good things, * Capitalist paradise | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments