Canada has a worrying trend that isn’t being talked about and that totally kneecaps #RealChange’s make-believe Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s quite one thing to not have Internet access – in theory at least that could be addressed and fixed in a relatively short amount of time (that is, if this wasn’t Canada we were talking about). No, there’s a much deeper problem that takes a lot longer to fix in a way that provides noticeable upturn. That problem is wages for the highly-educated are roughly on par with those for a construction worker. This is not a demonstration of an intelligent economy or an intelligent workforce of the sort that we’re constantly told Canada has going for it. Whoops!
And the fun thing about education is that simply shouting into blank faces doesn’t cut it – you need a population that’s actually interested in learning and improving if you’re going to get anywhere. What you need are incentives to convince people that educations are a good idea or passionate people who are prepared to learn at any cost. Incentives like higher pay and a better work environment are a critical part of the rationale behind the education and labor choices that people make. When it’s easier to ride the wave of a resource boom than it is to make a concerted effort to get better at a skill it suggests that the employment market is too unstable for people to feel as if they have a shot at a better job after their training. This is demonstrated in our universities, which are attended more for “the experience” than because over any sort of hope for quality education.
And indeed the labor landscape in Canada is to say the least profoundly precarious. Over half of Toronto’s employed are working in an unreliable way – contracts, temporary employment through a predatory agency (like the kind our current Finance Minister used to run), or part-time bit work. Having done plenty of this kind of work myself I can assure you that being a temp worker to try to make money for school is a thankless and emotional chore. In the context of ever-rising costs there’s an obvious incentive to go be a lunkhead wherever the going’s good and the income is both adequate and constant enough to try to form a life. It’s hard to blame the people of Canada for their desperation, but it is plenty easy to point to the structure of the Canadian economy and the perverse incentives that it produces.
The reason I say that these results are perverse is because education isn’t only useful for employment. Educated, literate people are a good in and of themselves. You want educated people – there’s a reason educational achievement is a development marker. With that in mind it’s a real shame that Canada’s private sector hires 4% of Ph.D students, a stunning ten times fewer than the evil idiot AmeriKKKans. So Canada’s prepared to pretend to have an interest and a need for educated people but in reality the trip to a doctorate is discouraged by limited job prospects and an economy that operates on the same principles and logic as the family dog during a game of catch.
I honestly do give #RealChange a bit of credit for acknowledging that our current situation is untenable. But then I take it right away again when he hallucinates visions of Silicon Valley Canada edition. Knowing that there’s a problem is one thing; actually understanding the problem is quite something else. With indicators like the ones I’ve shown you – the declining monetary value of more advanced education, the limited employment prospects and the iffy labor market that supports them, ever-rising costs – the Silicon Valley fever dream isn’t going to happen. What instead seems to be encouraged is a nomadic life of hunting for the latest instance of a resource bubble and riding it until it bursts.