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Where, Oh Where is the Leadership? Obama and Harper – MIA

January 29, 2012

It’s not rocket science – or at least it shouldn’t be.

Whether you’re a plumber, a doctor, a truck driver, a nurse, or a cook, you know that if you want to spend money you have to earn money. That’s Economics 101.

I recall past conversations with guys I knew who were electricians, plumbers and woodmill owners. They got it; they understood Economics 101.

Too bad that our politicians don’t get it.

First off, I’m apolitical; my voting pattern over 35 plus-years has been all over the map. So I don’t have an axe to grind with any particular political party.

Although I’m a Canadian and follow our rather mundane political events, I’m an avid fan of America’s brass knuckle, winner-take-all politics. As much as I find American politics far more fun to watch than Canadian hockey or American football (though the latter can be pretty exciting), I’m very serious when it comes to the economy and job market. Countries are playing for keeps when it comes to creating jobs and wealth. I don’t have to tell you about the incredible growth that China, India, Brazil and South Korea have experienced over the past two decades.

Canada and the United States have been asleep during this period. Canadian Prime Ministers have been absorbed with the province of Quebec and its incessant whining about how it keeps getting screwed, fighting with provincial premiers, covering up scandals and taking petty pot shots at one another. All the while Rome burns. But Canadians are a smug lot, perhaps the smuggest in the world.

South of the border Americans are still numb from the financial shellacking they took, oblivious to many of the economic events elsewhere in the world, preferring to divert their attention to the hugely partisan game of Mafia-style politics.

President Barack Obama, who knowingly inherited an escalating financial nightmare from President G.W. Bush, blew most of his political capital by insisting on ramming through Congress new healthcare legislation, which while addressing the issue of coverage for Americans, totally ignores the looming implosion of healthcare due to its exorbitant cost. Obama only recently got the “jobs” religion when he realized that unemployment was going to stick around and that a federal election was not far off.

What a mess our two countries are in. Compounding it is the apparent lack of understanding by our two national leaders, and their respective cabinets, of the imminent showdown with what are no longer “emerging economies” (the New Kids on the Block with buck teeth) but kickass competitors who are eating our lunch.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (sister to The Economist) recently published its Industries in 2012 report. Based on a survey of just over 900 executives from several countries, the report’s underlying tone is one of gloom and doom. Here are some of the report’s key messages:

• New economies, especially in Asia, will grab an expanding share of automotive and consumer goods manufacturing and back-office support services in the financial sector,
• The consumer retail , healthcare, energy and automotive sectors are expected to fare the worst for growth;
• Although telecom execs are the most optimistic, they still expressed much caution.

The automotive industry provides a compelling case for attention, given that it has played such an important role in North America’s economy for the past several decades. Automakers, as the report notes, “…understand that the focus of the global market has permanently shifted to developing countries, and in 2012 will continue their drive to establish production locally.”

The financial services sector is expected to experience weak growth in the ageing populations of the industrialized West, driven further by overly indebted households and increased regulation.

Other think tanks such as the World Economic Forum and the Conference Board of Canada have been critical of how Canada and the U.S. have let their competitiveness slide. While Canada gets fairly good marks on education, it also has a continuing problem with illiteracy. The country also ranks down in the mid-teens on such aspects as innovation, research and development, and productivity. The U.S. shows abysmal results in math, science and reading – a sad story for the world’s so-called economic powerhouse.

And both countries have irresponsibly let their physical infrastructures deteriorate to deplorable standards, not to mention paying little attention to upgrading their broadband network. If you want to see fast Internet speed, go visit South Korea or Japan.


Things could start to get tough this year and beyond.

This is a time when national leaders need to focus on their countries’ long-term visions and layout substantial industrial development strategies. Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took a pass on that opportunity, focusing instead on building prisons and taking joyful glee in hammering the down-and-out Liberal party.

And just this past week, Prime Minister Harper had the gall to stand before an audience of multimillionaires in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum and lecture European countries about their fiscal mess. This is coming from Canada’s most spendthrift prime minister, who turned a fiscal surplus (from the preceding Liberal government) into a deficit – the prime minister who has redefined the art of petty, partisan politics.

Go figure. Meanwhile, the rest of Canada sleeps.

President Obama is hoping not to repeat history by getting booted out of office in November because of sustained high unemployment. His greatest gift is a ragtag misfit bunch of Republican wannabee presidents. Sorry guys, but you’re a pathetic lot.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama: MIA – Missing in Action.

America, the land of opportunity and innovation, will take a long time to recover. Indeed, internationally respected Bank of Canada governor Markey Carney (and new head of the Switzerland-based Financial Stability Board) recently stated that the United States will never return to its former economic power.

The slowly evolving change in attitude north of the border is prompting the Canadian government to step up its efforts to find new export markets for its goods and services, in particular energy, now that Trans Canada’s XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas has been shot in the head by the Obama Administration. China is a very appealing market along with several other East Asian countries.

We live in a no-holds-barred global economy. There are many developing and formerly developing countries that are exceedingly hungry to succeed. And they are doing just that – succeeding.

This leads me, sadly, to ask: “Where, oh where is the leadership?

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
– Sir Winston Churchill

Click here to download my complimentary e-book A Blueprint for Learning & Knowledge Creation: Staying Ahead of Your Competitors in a Turbulent World”.

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Take a moment to meet Jim.

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