John Dolan’s chilling account of his descent into Dickensian poverty in 2007 in the US in spite of graduate education and teaching experiences, reads like a Gothic do-it-yourself manual.

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Judith Maxwell (2008-01-28), former head of the Economic Council of Canada and Canadian Policy Research Networks, claimed that the high concentration of at-risk Canadians live in highly disadvantaged neighbourhoods of poverty by postal code. In 2008 the Canadian national poverty rate remained at c. 16% where we’ve been stuck for eight years. Maxwell claims that religions, some social-minded businesses and countless volunteers who constitute civil society are revitalizing desperately poor neighbourhoods, tackling homelessness and letting governments know that the current policies prevent people from escaping poverty.

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Maxwell, Judith. 2008-01-28. “Forget policy makers, civic leaders are spearheading the fight to end poverty.” Globe and Mail.

“Canada’s social safety net results in lower rates of poverty and income inequality along with higher rates of self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations than in the United States. But many Canadians would be surprised to find out that the U.S. has a lower burglary rate, a lower suicide rate, and greater gender equity than Canada […] Canada’s relatively poor record on child poverty, income inequality, and assault [remain] shocking […] Particularly troubling is its ranking on child poverty. In Canada, according to OECD statistics, one child in seven lives in poverty. Canada also still has an unacceptably high rate of poverty among its working-age population. According to statistics published by the OECD, just over 10 per cent of its working-age population is below the poverty line. This is double the rate of Denmark, the best-performing country on this indicator. Canada’s crime record is also disturbing—with 17 times the rate of assaults as the best-ranked country, 7 times the rate of burglaries, and 3 times the rate of homicides. Crime takes its toll on trust—both within the community and within public institutions. This picture of crime is not what Canadians think of when they think of their society. […] Canada ranks high on the indicator measuring acceptance of diversity […] Canada’s past achievements, such as reducing poverty among its elderly, show that, given the political will, Canada could successfully address other social challenges to sustain future quality of life (Conference Board of Canada Society Overview 2008 ).”

The Conference Board of Canada (2008 ) compared economic, innovation, environment, education, health and society performances of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States which are considered to be Canada’s international peers. Canada’s standard of living ranking dropped from 4th spot in 1990 to 9th in 2008. In terms of Education and Skills, over 40% of adult Canadians lack literacy skills required for everyday life and work in modern society. In terms of innovation Canada scored D since the 1980s and has failed to produce any top global brands.

The full report for 2008 will not be available until September. I am curious to see how data specifically related to Canada’s growing aboriginal community with its unique social histories and current dilemmas will be analysed in this report. When we examine the weakest points in the report, it is obvious that the vulnerabilities faced by Canada’s most at-risk group (aboriginal women and children) affect our international ranking. It is also useful to consider the location of remote aboriginal communities in terms of the most volatile environmental debates in Canada.

Data for this annual report comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (c.80%), the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. The report measures quality of life based on this definition:

“The Conference Board defines a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians as being achieved if Canada records high and sustainable performances in six categories: Economy, Innovation, Environment, Education and Skills, Health and Society (B 10/17). The word “sustainable” [1] is a critical qualifier. It is not enough for Canada to boost economic growth if it is done at the expense of the environment or social cohesion. For example, to take advantage of high commodity prices by mining and exporting all our natural resources may make the country rich in the short term, but this wealth will not be sustainable in the long or even medium term. The Conference Board has consistently argued that economic growth and sustainability of the physical environment need to be integrated into a single concept of sustainable national prosperity—what we call here a “high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians.”

..

“Having a high quality of life means living in communities that are free from fear of social unrest and violence, communities that accept racial and cultural diversity, and those that foster social networks. A country that provides a high quality of life also minimizes the extremes of inequality between its poorest and richest citizens, while reducing the social tensions and conflicts that result from these gaps. Performance in the Society category is assessed using 17 indicators across three dimensions: self-sufficiency, equity, and social cohesion. Self-sufficiency indicators measure the autonomy and active participation of individuals within society, including its most vulnerable citizens, such as persons with disabilities and youth. Equity indicators measure equity of access, opportunities, and outcomes. Social cohesion indicators measure the extent to which citizens participate in societal activities, the level of crime in society, and the acceptance of diversity [. . .] Canada’s social safety net results in lower rates of poverty and income inequality along with higher rates of self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations than in the United States. But many Canadians would be surprised to find out that the U.S. has a lower burglary rate, a lower suicide rate, and greater gender equity than Canada […] Canada’s relatively poor record on child poverty, income inequality, and assault [remain] shocking […] Particularly troubling is its ranking on child poverty. In Canada, according to OECD statistics, one child in seven lives in poverty. Canada also still has an unacceptably high rate of poverty among its working-age population. According to statistics published by the OECD, just over 10 per cent of its working-age population is below the poverty line. This is double the rate of Denmark, the best-performing country on this indicator. Canada’s crime record is also disturbing—with 17 times the rate of assaults as the best-ranked country, 7 times the rate of burglaries, and 3 times the rate of homicides. Crime takes its toll on trust—both within the community and within public institutions. This picture of crime is not what Canadians think of when they think of their society. […] Canada ranks high on the indicator measuring acceptance of diversity […] Canada’s past achievements, such as reducing poverty among its elderly, show that, given the political will, Canada could successfully address other social challenges to sustain future quality of life (Conference Board of Canada Society Overview 2008).”

Footnotes

1. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland 1987:43).”

Webliography and Bibliography

Brundtland, Gro Harlem. 1987. Our Common Future: World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Conference Board of Canada. 2008.

Ross Levin, a NYC hedge fund analyst with Arbiter Partners, who calls himself a “passive speculator in securities” met Lionel Lepine, a member of the Athabaskan Chipewyan First Nation whose family and friends living on the contaminated watershed upriver from the oil sands’ effluence are suffering from unprecedented numbers of cancerous tumours.

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A number of recent stories intersect here: Harper’s apology for past treatment of Canada’s First Nations, the pollution of the Athabaskan River north of the oil sands, the impatient development of nonrenewable resources, the meteoric rise of oil commodities market directly caused by irresponsible speculators playing with volatile, unpredictable hedge funds that play havoc with the market making a fortune for some while destroying economic, social and ecological environments all around them.

In a rapid visit to the local library yesterday I grabbed Jake Bernstein’s How the Futures Markets Work. Although it is quite old for the fast-paced risk management industry, there are certain fundamentals that ring true. He briefly traced the history futures contracts leading to the volatile environment where agricultural futures were replaced by the less predictable currency markets. Of course, his book was written long before the meteoric rise of private equity funds.

My concern remains with the absent ethical component on trading floors. Ethical responsibilities are as elastic as the regulations that govern the centuries old practice of hedging. In the period of late capitalism and the emergence of risk society, the cost of destructive unintended byproducts have created havoc in ways that far exceed the commodities/service value. The road to profits and impatient money, is paved with casualties.

Berstein’s facts of market life are telling. He encourages simple methods and systems which require few decisions and little mental conflict. Too much thought is not conducive to successful trading. Too much analysis costs lost opportunities. Keep systems simple. Control your emotions. Practice caring less so that you remain more objective. Don’t ask why. Knowing why may hinder you more than it will help you. Patterns are the best indicators available (What feeds into a “pattern” however is not a science). Timing is what makes money in the futures market (Bernstein 2000:282-3).

In other words, futures’ gurus encourage young hedge fund analysts to not think too much about factors such as displacement of peoples, the degradation of living conditions and the way in which they unwittingly contribute to making vulnerable ecologies and peoples even more vulnerable. Their gurus tell them to not think about the impact of their actions. They are told to not ask why the prices of essential commodities like fuel and food that they are playing with, are pushing certain groups into unimaginable levels of social exclusion. In the end groups at-risk to health degradation are always those least able to protect themselves. How convenient that the gurus do not factor in these social issues. They are entirely absent from finance reports.

But then a lot of information is purposely not included in financial and business reports. Bernstein argues that the simpler systems that take fewer things into consideration will lead to more profits. Yet when he lists off all the potential factors in operation in even a simple fundamental analysis, it is not at all simple. It begins with the highly complex. The algorithms involved may appear to be simplified through the use of databases that seem to generate accurate, objective hard facts. In reality, the accuracy of any query depends on what was fed into it.

Futures trading, also known as commodities trading, the final frontier of capitalism, became a popular speculative and investment vehicle in the US in the 1960s (Bernstein 2000:1). These financial instruments offer unlimited profit potential with relatively little capital. Speculators are drawn to the possibility of quick money or what I like to call impatient money. The great wealth accumulated from speculative financial instruments has spawned careers in brokerage, market analysis, computerized trading, computer software and hardware, accounting, law, advertising which themselves subdivide into more recent opportunities such as those related to risk-management.

While gurus such as Bernstein argue that gambling is for anyone but speculation is for professionals, the chaos and unpredictability of the current global economy have been linked to a growing culture of gambling in futures trading rather than level-headed professionalism. Gamblers create risk simply by placing a bet; professional speculators “transfer risk from the hedgers to the speculators” and it therefore called risk management instead of gambling.

“It rained last night so the price of soy beans will be down today.” Although the basis of fundamental analysis in economics is supply and demand, the actual fundamental analysis of specific markets that might generate accurate price predictions are complicated as numbers of factors overlap and massive quantities of data need to be considered. The simple equation involves how much of a commodity or service are buyers willing to pay at a given time and place. There used to be a correlation between price and consumption. Factors that impact on price of commodities include the state of the economy (local, regional, national and international – inflationary, recessionary with rising or falling employment), availability of alternate products or services, storage possibilities, weather, seasonality, price cycles, price trends, government subsidies, political influences, protectionist attitudes, international tensions, fear of war, hoarding, stockpiling, demand for raw materials (sugar, petroleum, copper, platinum, coffee, cocoa), currency fluctuations, health of the economy, level of unemployment, housing starts. Most technical systems are not effective in making traders money.

In spite of this there is still a persistent belief that there is an invisible hand that guides market correcting imbalances like a living organism or finely-tuned machine.

“Markets work perfectly as they respond to the multiplicity of forces that act upon them. It is our inability to find, parse, and correctly weight the impact of these factors that limits our results and success of our fundamentally based forecasts (Bernstein 2000:162).”

The bottom line is that wealth disparities continue to intensify and that these inordinate extremes of wealth and poverty destabilizes society. These distorted economic relationships deprive us of any sense of control over economic forces that threaten to disrupt the foundations of our existence. National governments have been either unwilling or unable to deal effectively with this situation in which we live where the deplorable superfluity of great wealth exists alongside the acute suffering of those living in miserable, demoralizing and degrading abject poverty even in countries like Canada.

Social equality is an entirely impracticable chimera. Even if equality could be achieved it could not be sustained. Wages and income should be unequal and should correspond to different efforts, skills and capacities. However, equal justice for all is not only necessary but urgently needed.

As long as those involved in the financial and energy industries remain in denial of their role by hiding behind economic and ideological polemics and simply dismissing concerns from others there can be no productive change. A fresh look at the problem should involve people like Lionel Lepine who are directly involved with decisions, along with experts from a wide spectrum of disciplines. There will not be a voluntary ethical turn so for now we desperately need public policies that will regulate industries.

Selected Timeline of Critical Events

1710 The first modern organized futures exchange began with the Dojima Rice Exchange in Osaka, Japan. The Japanese feudal landowners began to use certificates of receipt against future rice crops. As these futures certificates became financial instruments in the general economy the value of the certificates would rise and fall as the price of rice fluctuated. The Dojima Rice Exchange emerged as the world’s first futures market where speculators traded contracts for the future delivery of rice or “certificates of receipt.” The Japanese government outlawed the practice when futures contracts (where delivery never took place) began to have no relationship to the underlying cash value of the commodity leading to wild and unpredictable fluctuations (Bernstein 2000:30).

1848 The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) was formed as a price risk occurred in the grain markets of Chicago.

1865 The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) organized trading of futures contracts.

1919 – 1945 The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) traded futures in eggs, butter, apples, poultry and frozen eggs (Bernstein 2000:70).

1960s Futures trading, also known as commodities trading, the final frontier of capitalism, became a popular speculative and investment vehicle in the US in the 1960s (Bernstein 2000:1).

1970s There was increasing volatility in international currency exchange rates as the Bretton Woods agreement began to break down. Business people transferred risk of volatility in international markets by hedging with speculators willing to take the risk. Futures markets began to expand into foreign currencies as fluctuated wildly competing against each other and the US dollar.

1972 The total volume of futures contracts trading was 18 million and the top ten most actively traded future contracts were agricultural futures (Bernstein 2000:71).

1974 The US Congress passed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act and established Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to protect participants in the futures market from fraud, deceit and abusive practices such as unfair trading practices (price manipulation, prearranged trading, trading ahead of a customer), credit and financial risks, and sales practice abuses (Bernstein 2000:32). Individual nation states have similar regulating bodies.

1982 Futures trading in the US was self-regulating and anyone in the business had to become a member of the National Futures Association (NFA).

1986 The total volume of futures contracts trading was 184 million and the T bonds were among the most actively traded future contracts (Bernstein 2000:71).

1990 The price of crude oil rose dramatically when Hussein invaded Kuwait.

1999 The most actively traded future contracts were interest rates, futures, stock index futures, energy futures, currency futures and agricultural futures (Bernstein 2000:72).

2000 The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) trades futures in livestock futures, currency futures, interest rate futures, stock index futures (Bernstein 2000:70).

2000 More than 90 foreign futures exchanges emerged with the ever-increasing demand for new financial instruments “to hedge against fluctuating interest rates, changing foreign exchange rates and institutional securities portfolios (Bernstein 2000:46).

2008 Calgary has a high percentage of young millionaires with lots of disposable income. There are also c.4000 homeless people in Calgary, the oil capital of Canada. c. 40% of the homeless are working poor who are unable to afford housing.

Webliography and Bibliography

Bernstein, Jake. 2000. How the Futures Markets Work. New York Institute of Finance.

McHugh Bluff Stairs for Fitness. Tory Calgary, AB MLA Dave Rodney is the first to propose legislation through the vehicle of a bill (2008-05-11) offering a maximum of $1500 tax relief to those who purchase a limited number of eligible fitness-related services. Would a tax credit only push a few people to step away from their screens and go outdoors, the can-but-will-not?

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Purchasing a club, team or gym membership does not make the buyer physically fit. The same degree of fitness can be achieved on Calgary’s biking, walking and hiking paths and trails. People get fit by choosing to use stairs indoors or outdoors like those at McHugh Bluff. Others keep in shape through paid or unpaid work related activities. How do we monetize their contributions towards relieving Alberta’s ailing medical system? Do we have statistics on the demographics of health-care users specifically as related to income and fitness? Do we have evidence-based research that lack of physical fitness on the part of individual’s is a key component in weakening Alberta’s medical system? Who is driving this bill? Are community members concerned with individual well-being who are not linked to the sports industry (organizations and businesses who monetize fitness) actively engaged in promoting this bill? How will this bill facilitate fitness improvement as part of quality of life issues for city’s most vulnerable populations? Is there any evidence-based research that the the most vulnerable groups, the biggest consumers of public medical system resources, would benefit in any way from a tax-incentive? What percentage of the municipal population who have access to a disposable income required to access pay-per-use fitness activities would find themselves in the tax bracket where this would benefit them? What is the real saving? What are the real costs of this proposed tax-incentive, spread across the broad spectrum of the municipal community, to encourage those few people who have the buying power but not the will, to puchase fitness-related services? Once they have purchased them is their any monitoring device that they would use them? Is there evidence-based research to ensure that those best served by tax deductible fitness-related purchases (those who have disposable income) really require a tax-incentive? If the largest demographic group using health services is a specific income or age group, why not examine ways of reaching that group first by improving universal access to fitness-related courses or memberships by financially assisting those who would-but-cannot because of a price hurdle, then focus on the vague possibility that a tax-incentive might get some people away from their screens and outdoors, the can-but-will-not?

Leading US advocate for homeless praised The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness’ 10-year plan business plan’s innovation, measurable benchmarks, field-tested, evidence-based & modeled on best practices in US cities which house homeless families, provide supported housing and treatment for homeless who suffer from mental illness and addictions.

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The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness unveiled its 10-year plan, “outlining the hundreds of millions of government dollars success will cost, as well as the projected $3.6 billion in eventual savings. The plan, developed by a committee 2007-2008, includes targets such as reducing the number of emergency shelter beds by half within five years, eliminating family homelessness within two years and chronic homelessness within seven, and creating more than 11,000 affordable housing units, including secondary suites and student housing [. . .] The Calgary committee has already launched two pilot projects it believes will put roofs over the heads of at least 100 people over the next year . . . A New York program is the model for Pathways to Housing, which finds supported housing for people with mental illness or addictions and then focuses on treatment. Hennepin County’s Rapid Exit program is being copied by CUPS as it matches homeless families and landlords, finding a place to live for at least six families in its first month (Guttormson 2008).”

My questions: How did structural changes over the last twenty years change the face of homelessness? When did the Canadian federal government download responsibilities regarding public health services including mental health to the provinces and the provinces to municipalities? What are the current demographic studies of the homeless, the proportion who are urban Inuit and First Nations? women? immigrants? children? families? mentally ill? relationship between mental illness and substance abuse?

Folksonomies or tag cloud

Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, Steve Snyder, Calgary’s housing prices are seriously unaffordable, Phillip Mangano, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, homeless, 10-year plan, crisis-management, end the disgrace, innovative ideas, business plan, measurable benchmarks, innovative ideas, municipalities, field-tested, evidence-based, Pathways to Housing, Rapid Exit, best practice, Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, 10-year-plan, emergency shelter beds, homeless families, supported housing, mental illness, addictions, chronic homeless population,

Timeline

2006 3,400 people in Calgary, Alberta were considered homeless, that is, living without permanent shelter (Guttormson 2008).

2007 The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness launched two pilot projects Pathways to Housing and Rapid Exit in 2007 which are anticipated to put roofs over the heads of at least 100 people in 2008 (Guttormson 2008).

2008-01-28 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2008 pegged Calgary’s housing prices as “seriously unaffordable.”

2008-01-29 The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness unveiled its 10-year plan, outlining the hundreds of millions of government dollars success will cost, as well as the projected $3.6 billion in eventual savings (Guttormson 2008).

2010 According to the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness’ 10-year plan (2008-2018) officials hope to stabilize the homeless population at the 2006 numbers 3,400) and to eliminate family homelessness by 2010.

2013 Calgary Committee to End Homelessness 10-Year Plan promises to reduce the number of emergency shelter beds by half within five years (Guttormson 2008).

Who’s Who?

Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) is “a not-for-profit community health centre in Calgary’s downtown core. Offering collaborative and holistic services in the areas of health care, education and social services, CUPS Community Health Centre helps people make the transition from poverty to stability. Founded on the principle that all people have an inherent right to lead a life of dignity, equality and respect, CUPS is a safe, warm and welcoming environment free of judgment and rejection (CUPS website ).” CUPS is actively engaged in combatting poverty and homelessness in Calgary. They have inaugurated a pilot project which matches homeless families and landlords, finding a place to live for at least six families in its first month is modelled on the US Hennepin County’s Rapid Exit program.

Cox, Wendell a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and Hugh Pavletich, a property investment manager in New Zealand produced the survey entitled

Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2008.

Frontier Centre for Public Policy’s senior fellow Wendell Cox and Hugh Pavletich, a property investment manager in New Zealand produced the survey entitled

Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2008.

Kim Guttormson is a journalist with the Calgary Herald which is part of the CanWest group.

Pathways to Housing, which finds supported housing for people with mental illness or addictions and then focuses on treatment is modelled on the successful New York program (Guttormson 2008).

Phillip Mangano is executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and a leading advocate for the homeless, who praised Calgary’s 10-year plan for ending homelessness. Mangano claimed that, “If this plan is implemented the way it is written, you will see in the next few years the number of people on the street, the number of people long-term in shelters, begin to be reduced. Calgary has decided to stop managing the crisis and begin ending the disgrace.” Mangano is confident that Calgary’s “bold and innovative” strategy will accomplish the plan’s ambitious goals. “Mangano, who has read Calgary’s report, calls it impressive and says it has the key components of successful plans in other cities — it’s based on a business plan, it has measurable benchmarks and it uses innovative ideas from other municipalities. “Calgary has done a very good job of uncovering the innovative ideas that are already field-tested and evidence-based, they’re already working somewhere else,” said Mangano, who has worked with more than 300 plans south of the border. “So you know if you invest in them, they’re going to work there (Guttormson 2008).”

Steve Snyder is chairman of the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. Snyder explained how this plan differs from past approaches where money was “thrown at the homeless issue” in that there is nothing in this plan that is pie-in-the-sky. In order to break the cycle of homelessness the committee studied best practice models in American cities where ten-year plans developed since 2003 have proven successful. “New York has closed a 1,004-bed shelter, Portland reduced its chronic homeless population by 70 per cent, Denver saw its chronic numbers drop 36 per cent and Hennepin County in Minnesota recorded a 43 per cent decrease in homeless families (Guttormson 2008).”

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

Webliography and Bibliography

Guttormson, Kim. 2008. “U.S. advocate for homeless raves about Calgary plan: City lauded for decision to start ending ‘disgrace’.” City & Region. Calgary Herald. January 29. B3.


CC Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2008. “Homelessness: from crisis management to ending the disgrace” >> Google Docs. Uploaded January 29.

A United Way report Losing Ground: The Persistent Growth of Family Poverty in Canada’s Largest City claims almost 93,000 Toronto, Canada households are raising children in poverty. That’s 30% compared with 16 per cent in 1990.

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