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The Virtue of Productivity in a Wicked World

Posted on August 27, 2012

“There are two imperatives–one domestic, one international–to secure strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth for Canada. Both recall Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the moral of which can be best summed up as “idleness brings want.” In short, in a wicked world, Canada needs productive virtue.”

Remarks – Mark Carney
Governor of the Bank of Canada
Presented to: Ottawa Economics Association
24 March 2010

It is either brave or foolhardy of the Ottawa Economics Association to organize another conference around Canada’s perennial challenges of demographics, productivity, and potential growth.

The cognoscenti wearily deride these shortcomings even while they acknowledge their importance.1 After all, who really wants to talk about getting old? Similarly, the subject of productivity is described as too dull, or worse, too threatening for Canadians. It is said to imply working harder, not smarter, or to promote job losses rather than income gains. These debates are thus thought best confined to the policy wonks, in order that our diagnoses and prescriptions can occur in a parallel, forgotten universe.

However, one wonders, who would not want to be productive in their work? Is there a child whom we do not want to reach his or her full potential? Could what Canadians expect of their economy be so very different from what they expect of themselves?

Our ambitions for the Canadian economy should be bold. We are a country of immense strengths and, as demonstrated during the recent crisis, considerable resilience.

Yet Canada does underperform. We are not as productive as we could be. Our potential growth is slowing. Moreover, this is occurring as the very nature of the global economy, in which we previously thrived, is under threat. This debate can no longer be avoided.

What, then, must be done?

There are two imperatives–one domestic, one international–to secure strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth for Canada. Both recall Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the moral of which can be best summed up as “idleness brings want.” In short, in a wicked world, Canada needs productive virtue.

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