Strange Days Indeed

I stopped by Coast Books the other day and handed Camp a free-form translation of a recent article in my Swiss Paper. It deals with the concept of Utopia from the vantage of a millennial. A bit of an eye-opener I thought. He promised to give it some attention, time permitting. ‘As you can see, I’m here by myself, since nobody wants to work for the wages I can pay,’ he lamented.

            ‘Where have all the workers gone? he said, shaking his head. 

            ‘To work from home or sorting packages at Amazon,’ I said. ‘What could be better than listening to podcasts and music all day long, standing at a conveyer belt, instead of working in a care home or waiting on demanding patrons in a restaurant or store.’ 

            ‘My staff quit because they couldn’t find affordable housing and this is in a small town. Unskilled workers on minimum wages cannot afford to live near their places of work like care homes and hospitals, restaurants, department stores or small retailers like book stores. Lack of affordable rentals is at an all-time high and the ludicrous real estate prices don’t help. People are renting their trailers and wood sheds to desperate tenants.’

            ‘Also, an unprecedented number of boomers retired and took their expertise, work ethic and pensions with them. Many of them trades people, supervisors, experts in their fields. A lot of the hands-on jobs which could not be done from home during the pandemic like servers, ground personnel at airports, care home and hospital workers have gone on to other jobs or gone back to school.’

            ‘Don’t forget that many received cheques from various levels of government just to stay home. Accrued savings are also not an incentive to go back to work, especially if the job was unrewarding, tedious and poorly paid. Add all that up and you have a situation like we have today where everybody needs bodies to do the physical work.’

            ‘In times past immigrants from poor countries like Mexico, Eastern Europe and Asia would fill a lot of these jobs but these days those people are better educated and immigration policies are myopic and mired in a murky soup of bureaucracy and politics.’

            ‘It sounds like the ball is on the worker’s side. They can ask for higher wages and benefits but employers just roll off the extra costs onto the consumer and there is the perfect inflation spiral.’

            ‘Stock markets are hemorrhaging, supply lines are clogged, shipping costs have doubled in the past two years due to demand and high fuel prices, house prices and rents are skyrocketing and apparently nobody is desperate for work. It’s a very strange situation. Usually, recessions and depressions manifest in millions out of work and house prices collapsing due to people not being able to service their debts but today we have this paradox of millions of job openings and unprecedented high house prices.’

            ‘You want the short answer? Just ask the populists like Poilievre or Trump. They’ll tell you who’s to blame. The others: immigrants, foreigners, liberals and democrats.’

            ‘Many believe just that and vote accordingly, not realizing that these demagogues always look after themselves and their cronies and never look out for the health and wellbeing of the populace,’ Camp said. ‘No altruistic republicans.’

            I looked around for Vicky who seemed to be the only server, running off her feet. 

            ‘I’ll be right with you,’ she said, reading my mind. ‘Two servers called in sick today. Always happens on sunny summer days.’

            ‘Who wants to work when you can lay on the beach and have money in the pocket. No point saving for the future if it’s unclear if there will be one,’ Camp said. ‘This sentiment fits the article you gave me the other day about the courage to have some kind of Utopia’.

            ‘Free beers tomorrow, fellas,’ Vicky said with a wink.

            ‘Old joke,’ Camp said, ‘tomorrow never comes. It’s always today.’

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