Every Spring, right around the Vernal Equinox, something of small consequence occurs in Canada. The Finance Minister gets a new pair of traditional shoes and the Queen’s printer churns out metric tons of soft-cover copies of the much anticipated Budget. Like Blue Moons or neap tides, once in awhile this event coincides with a coming election and in these instances especially, the contents of those future glossy covered fire-starters is as predictable as a ten year old boy and a sling-shot. Across the nation, shouts of “BOHICA!” fill the air. Bend over, here it comes again.
I have been enjoying them since the early 70s. Typically, there are promises of relief for childcare fees and spaces, help for home buyers, help for low income earners, help for medical expenses, help for housing shortages, help for the homeless, help for senior citizens and many more besides. The largest and loudest demographics are always served first with the promises.
The lead up to the publication will have seen all these problems front and centre in the news feeds, so as to coax the maximum relief response when those particular nasties are listed as being solved by the brand new budget. What ever party was in power prior will be blamed for the current fiasco and the required spending. When the current sitting party changes, the new party will announce that those folks over spent and that now, by God, we will all do the right thing and tighten our belts to pay for it all. This tough love will be appreciated by the tired old folks and dazed young folks alike.
Statistics are massaged and rendered down like oolichan grease, lined up and presented in such a format that any dumb bunny can argue convincingly with anybody else in the lunch room at work or on the transit to and from. Aptly named bullet lists are shown on the flat screens with the new amounts that have been ear-marked for fixing the chosen problems of that year.
These amounts are generally in the millions of dollars Canadian and to some people, still elicit a wow response that is much like fiscal strawberry jam covering the burnt toast of reality underneath these sums. Although, I am speaking of Canada, I would be very pleasantly surprised if these tried and true methods were much different in other countries.
Depending on the big picture of International Finance, interest rates, the Stock Exchanges, the Commodity Markets, the Carbon Exchanges and Foreign Exchanges, one can begin to see the flawed logic of the relief being proffered.
An example would be the current promise of relief for first time home buyers. Now, evidently, a person may take $35,000 out of their RRSP instead of the former $25,000 to add to the down payment of their real estate purchase. When a Canadian uses this mechanism, they are legally bound to replenish such used funds within 15 years. It would be interesting to see a conspicuously missing statistic, that of all the folks who have become renters due to the astronomical percentage of divorces and dissolved relationships, who don’t qualify as “first timers” until some prescribed length of time expires making them again eligible for this “help.”
If the lucky first timer happens to live in Vancouver where a house costs well over a million dollars, the $35,000 they are able to bolster their down-payment with would be akin to urinating on a volcano. In the good old days of 30% down, 20 year mortgages, a person paid the purchase price of their home about three times over, even with a “good” steady interest rate for the life of the mortgage. Things ain’t so steady now. Interestingly, I saw on the news about a year ago that the average Canadian, you know, that guy, doesn’t have $3,000 in savings, let alone $35, 000. A short list of the mechanics of many of the other relief schemes basically boil down to making it easier to borrow more money with less emphasis on actual creditworthiness. Hey dude, if you are here in the Shark Tank asking me for cash for your business, I’m writing the rules or you can walk.
Now, if we look at some numbers of a very different magnitude, engaging people of a very different kidney, some interesting speculations begin to form. In the world of drug trafficking, particularly cocaine trafficking, the sums of money being dealt with are beyond the abilities of normal folks to calculate or to conceive of. According to Roberto Saviano, in his book, ZeroZeroZero, folks employed in this business have to weigh their money on scales, while the folks we usually think of as wealthy can get by quite easily with counting it, like we do.
The consumers of this alkaloid are ubiquitous, non-denominational, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, gainfully employed and strung out, scholarly and street smart, elegant and shabby. It is not likely that this drug will ever suffer a shrinkage in demand during the current Inter-Glacial Period we are living in. The opposite is almost a guarantee.
It is an illegal substance and tons of it move around the globe, breathing super-human energy into all the population centres. As has been said many times before of caffeine and nicotine, if these substances were to disappear, the world would move at a much slower pace as a result. This is exponentially more true with the white powder.
Traffickers and smugglers are as old as civilization and those employed in the movement of cocaine have much precedence to draw upon. Over the decades, a flow chart of this movement from Southern jungles to Northern latitudinal nostrils would reveal that in spite of any plan by any State to curtail or subdue this commerce, the demand itself acts as half of an electrical circuit. To dream of stopping it is akin to attempting to stop lightening from occurring while natural static charges build up in the earth and sky from the very motion of the planet.
Today’s traffickers employ private customized submarines and submersible vehicles, ships, boats, trains, planes, helicopters, drones, humans, animals and automobiles to transport the product. The profits enjoyed are of such an order of magnitude that it has been discovered that some submarines, for instance, are scuttled after only one use. We are made to feel guilty about plastic drinking straws and shopping bags while some guy young enough to be your nephew chucks out single use disposable submarines.
It has been in our local news recently and repeatedly, that money laundering is rampant in Canada and is especially virulent in Vancouver. Do you think? The typical news feature will have a quick video of some dude who’s anonymity is guaranteed, unzipping a Samsonite full of cash bundles in the back office of a local casino. A report on the problem has even been generated by the Government. All we get to see is the cover of this august tome. Links to the real estate market have been suspected. In fact, some millions of Canadian dollars have been ear-marked for studying this exact problem in the newest budget.
I can say that this activity was obvious nearly thirty years ago to anyone who cared to look. It was obvious to me, a high-school educated mailman. I say that without denigrating myself, but rather, to suggest that it must have been even more obvious to many other brighter folks. Like the ones who cluck their tongues and shudder at today’s news casts. For those involved and profiting from the business, it’s been a long, cool ride. Fish are jumping and the cotton’s mighty high. The result of this suitcase cash/poker chip/real estate phenomenon has been acres of uninhabited, hastily built foreign owned high rises. The names of the agents on the real estate flyers are becoming harder to pronounce, harder to spell and more often hyphenated.
Mothers were already working before this happened and now both parents are likely to have two jobs each. Newer immigrants are sometimes working three jobs. Graduated students from post secondary are working jobs they could have qualified for without the boon of that university or college education if they are lucky enough to find employment. Their pay goes to rent, transportation and servicing their student loans. The ray of hope held out by the new budget to that sorry group, is interest forgiveness. The principal amount they owe will likely keep them busy enough to forgo seeking mortgages or pairing off, settling down and raising children.
The traditional banks that have always handled the proceeds of crime are still the majors and technology has greatly aided their operations. It is not likely they will ever change and besides, the fines paid by them when caught are such a small cost of doing business that any financial analyst would not be alarmed enough to suggest any change in the status quo.
The cartel dudes, aka the suppliers, are perfectly happy with the exorbitant rates charged to them by the existing money launderers. It is an acceptable cost of doing business again but several orders of magnitude higher up the scale. The producers, aka farmers, are happy to eat, whether they are cultivating poppies, coca bushes or potatoes. The distributors are an ever changing group tending towards monopoly but contending with greedy, would be one man band schemers from time to time. The retailers, aka the guy at work, on the street, at the Starbucks or at the gym are an as yet unmeasured but constant portion of our species who are either ready and willing vampires with expensive tastes, a dislike of conflict and a disdain for honest work or good people driven by economic necessity out of love for themselves or their families.
The substance ain’t going away and neither are the players enumerated above nor are the users. In fact, I would bet on an increasing amount of users in the developed nations as a result of the hopeless rat-race most of them exist in. The middle men may well shift from Sicily to Calabria as appeared to be the case to one unfortunate investigator who looked deeply into those matters. Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have made big leaps forward as players. The reckless, vicious style of these war-torn, military trained boys may well be a match for governance by the traditional code of honor with ancient roots in Aspromonte. Time will show.
What if, I wondered one day, the government of British Columbia created a Provincial Money Laundromat? It could be called the BCPMLA or the British Columbia Provincial Money Laundering Authority. Without legalizing the substance, its sale or use, depositors could make physical deliveries of cash under total amnesty and anonymity. This service could charge rates that would be criminally high yet still points off the other options available.
A very large staff would be created to do all the physical jobs and technology would interface with the banks involved. The banks would have to fork up a share of the fees they charge for these types of transactions. People down the line who profit from the trade can then lose their clean surplus cash in legal casinos and Hummer dealerships.
The billions raked in by the BCPMLA could easily and speedily solve the daycare crisis, the housing affordability crisis, the homeless crisis, the medical care crisis, the substandard living conditions of First Nations peoples crisis, the education crisis, the transportation crisis and all of the other things listed each year on government budgets. If these problems, as we are told by our leaders, are in fact solvable by dollars, then I would argue that throwing billions at them instead of millions would be a step in the right direction.
If the nation took notice of these provincial proceedings, it could lead to solving problems for the whole of Canada. If the Northwest Passage does thaw out enough to be navigable year round, the transportation routes traditionally used for the flake will likely shift from their current placements anyway. Armies of workers who need no sleep nor food, who are numb to the cold, impotent and hyper alert will flock to the new frontier of opportunity that is Canada’s North. Trump’s Border Wall could become Trump’s Border Mall in short order.
These government run cash laundry speculations of mine are of course satiric. You may think of it as sit down comedy, if you will. They are intended to point out the fact that there is no shortage of money in our world. There is no problem with a financial solution that could not be easily solved by the dysenteric river of drug money that flows right past those who need it, feeds the worst of us along its way and comes to rest in constipated cisterns of real estate holdings belonging to young, spoiled, abused widows whose husbands are peppered with lead, boxed and buried well before their natural time of dying.
To be fair, we must look at what could possibly go wrong. That is easily done. What would go wrong would be what always goes wrong. Humans would be human. Fear, greed, jealousy, revenge, lust and everything Shakespeare wrote about would be visited upon the enterprise in epic proportions. The gristle in the fajita is the fact that all those failings always exist in proportions large enough to make the life of the average law abiding citizen anywhere on the planet a patch of bad road.
The cat winking one eye seems to say that even if the fictitious government money laundrette worked for even a year and was then dismantled, the sums obtained for the doing of needed good here at home would form a fund that if properly invested in safe, legitimate, traditional stock and bond issues; would easily dwarf the pocket change flung at our problems each year from the proceeds of hyper-taxation.
If this doesn’t pan out, perhaps domestic and foreign corporate criminals can pay their fines by public service in the form of financially addressing the problems on that years budget litany of woes. Now we have a system where law abiding citizens foot the bill for the attempted prevention, prosecution and punishment of the few criminals who do get busted.
Income tax began as a temporary war measures act and never left when the dance was over. Sales tax, carbon tax and their ilk continue to create a species of desperation that leverages good people over the edges of the law. Perhaps it is time to take the bold step of recognizing that crime is human and it will always be with us. Perhaps it is time to tax crime. The relief forthcoming should work to steadily remove the tensions and temptations that lead to a general sense of hopelessness which in turn fuels the beast of self medication that has been so consummately served by organized crime.
To cap this talk, I will share a story I heard several decades ago in a Post Office lunch room. A fifth grade class, a teacher, a lawyer, a priest and a politician were randomly thrown together by fate on a small inter-island ferry under a stormy sky. Halfway to their destination, the small craft began to take water and the captain determined quickly that the situation was dire. He issued instructions to the crew and the passengers to assemble by the port side life boat davits and flotation device locker.
The school teacher herded her kids, calmed them and started to help them with their life preservers while the deck-hands readied the boat for loading and lowering.
“Women and children first,” shouted one deck-hand to the lawyer, who was pushing others out of his way and trying to clamber aboard.
“Screw the children!” yelled the man in the three piece suit.
The priest turned to the other deck-hand and inquired, “Do you think there’s still time?”
The deck-hands finished loading the children, their teacher and then shoved the old man of the cloth into the boat. The lawyer and the politician who had come to blows were physically separated and settled just before the Captain appeared with his log book and compass.
Soon all the men were aboard and the sailors successfully lowered the wee hull into the foam and began to shove off from the gurgling wreck of the ferry as it began its slide into the depths. In their fight to get aboard, the lawyer and the politician had neglected to put on their flotation devices. The captain ordered them to do so now and their renewed struggles in that regard, capsized the life boat. The high chop prevented righting the boat and the strong breeze soon separated the floaters. Sadly, all souls but one were lost that afternoon. Not from drowning but from sharks attracted by all the commotion. The politician alone was pulled from the salt chuck three hours later, safe and sound. Why didn’t the sharks eat him? You may well wonder. Time honoured professional courtesy.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.