GENERAL ARTICLES

WHATS AHEAD FOR CANADA?

"If we know how to swing the gate, the close of war...should open for us an era of well-being never known before"

STEPHEN LEACOCK May 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

WHATS AHEAD FOR CANADA?

"If we know how to swing the gate, the close of war...should open for us an era of well-being never known before"

STEPHEN LEACOCK May 1 1943

WHATS AHEAD FOR CANADA?

GENERAL ARTICLES

"If we know how to swing the gate, the close of war...should open for us an era of well-being never known before"

STEPHEN LEACOCK

I HOLD very little with postwar planning. It’s a poor substitute for war courage and war effort. Carry it too far, into too much detail, and it’s dangerous—elaborate committees sitting on “reconstruction,” playing chess without a board, as drowsy as a Royal Commission. How do we know what there will be to reconstruct? That way lies wandering from the path—a little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to sleep . . . and we know what comes then . . .

But one kind of talk is permissible, talk to allay the gathering apprehension that something ominous is coming — some great social upheaval, even catastrophe. Already many people are looking away from the theatre of the war, looking about them in what seems the gathering darkness, their feet on what seems the trembling earth. Are these fierce gusts the prelude of a cyclone . . . these lurid lightnings of a storm?

Our landmarks are shifting. Where are the poor gone? We thought we were to have them always with us. But now of a sudden, all the poor are rich and all the rich grown poor. In this new changing and trembling world there seems to be bread and work for all, but no cake, not even for those who can’t do without it.

Nor can we turn—that is our perplexity—to the old-time guidance that served us well or ill a hundred years, and at least got us where we are. There they are, the old-time parties, playing their game of hide and seek among the pillars at Ottawa ... In and out they go . . . You see, they’ve picked up sides; they pretend they’re two different sets.

Enee, menee, minee, mo,

Catch a nigger by the toe—

Children, children, don’t you see it’s getting

dark? Don’t you see the storm gathering . . . You mustn’t play “Opposition” any more tonight . . . Look, look at the lightning . . . Crash!

Such is the situation, stated, for vividness sake, in allegory. Let us look at it in simple fact. People are afraid that the end of the war will bring with it a great social crash. The demobilization of several million men, closing of munitions and transport employment, will throw all the world out of work ; so it is thought. This would bring down our social system with a crash. This would be the end of private industry, of company profits. There would be mass rule effected either by a bloody conflict or the bloodless vote of a tyrannous majority. Glory of Russia illuminates the background—but with what? The flame of heroism in the dark of war— only that? Or is there behind it the calm light of a new dawn?

Such is the great fear.

There is much in it. Such chaos and starvation may be the fate of what was the German Reich. But such will not be our position in Canada unless we make it for ourselves. Our resources all around us, our assets, offer us a different chance. Such will not be the fate of Great Britain, where not the resources of the island but the character of the people forbid it. Already they are bracing themselves for the task; the sheet anchor of the Beveridge Report is out to windward with forty-five million to turn the capstan. Nor will it be the fate of the United States, where resources and character and experience are all against it. But there the shock will be the greatest, the strain the hardest.

Far From Disaster

T>UT I am talking here of Canada and of Canada -U alone. It is my opinion that far from bringing disaster, the close of the war should open for us, if we know how to swing the gate, an era of general well-being never known before. In this I am willing to be the greatest optimist—at least, of all those at large.

Here, I admit, our current economics of the

schools is of no help. Just a babble of mathematical jargon, all plots and graphs and curves, signifying nothing. Among the rising members of the family of the new sciences of a hundred years ago, political economy has turned out to be the Idiot Boy. Such a bright child, too. Set up on a chair to recite for Dr. Adam Smith and Mr. Ricardo. Now sitting in a corner, chuckling to himself as he counts his fingers. For the Idiot Boy lost his wits when they taught him to count in money, instead of counting in things —no longer reckoning in farms and fields and forests, but in finance and funds . . . Ask the Idiot Boy what happens when two million men are thrown out of work for lack of funds, and he starts to snigger . . .

What it really means is—that there will be labor, two million men set free from purely destructive activities available for the production of things of use to themselves and their fellow men. All that these two million men need is access to the native wealth, the natural resources of the earth . . . Canada offers this, and offers it twenty times over.

It is amazing how few people understand this simple background. I sometimes think that there are only two, Mr. Stuart Chase and myself. If there’s a third man somewhere round I beg his pardon. Let him speak up. But all except us two—or us three—would object: “That’s all very well

but how do you get your funds to set your people to work? And if you do turn out your goods, where do you get your market?”

Let us take funds first, and meet the objection with a parable.

Four businessmen were stranded, shipwrecked and penniless, upon an island in the South Seas. It was a beautiful island. Breadfruit grew on every tree, coconuts dangled at the tops of palms, while beds of oysters lay near the shore.

But for the businessmen it was useless. They had no “funds” to develop the island; with an advance

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of funds they could have gathered breadfruit and made bread. But without funds! Why, they couldn’t! They must stay hungry.

“Don’t you think,” said the weakest among them—a frail man (he had never been able to raise more than a million dollars; he’d no strength) — “Don’t you think,” he said to the biggest man, “you could climb that palm tree and throw down coconuts?” . . . “And who’ll underwrite me?” asked the other.

There it was! They were blocked and helpless; couldn’t even get an advance to wade into the sea for ! oysters.

So they sat there on the rocks— starving, dejected, their hair growing long. They couldn’t even shave; there was no barber union.

On the fourth day the frail man, who was obviously sinking, said:

“If I die I want you to bury me over there on that little hill overlooking the sea.”

“We can’t bury you, Eddie,” they said. “We’ve no burial fund.”

They fell asleep on the sands. But the next morning when they woke up, an Angel was standing beside them. They knew he was an Angel although he wore a morning coat and a top j hat, and had grey striped trousers with spats above his boots.

“Are you an Angel?” they asked. “Pretty much,” he answered. “That is to say, I am a director of the Bank of England, but for you just now it’s almost the same thing.” “Funds, funds!” they exclaimed. “Can you advance us funds?”

“Certainly,” said the Angel. “I came for that. I think I see a fountain pen in your waistcoat pocket there. Thank you . . . and that ten

cent scribbler . . . much obliged. Now then up you get! Light a fire, go and collect those oysters, pick some breadfruit, chase that wild goat and I’ll arrange an advance of funds while you’re doing it.”

As they sat round their fire at supper the Angel explained it all out of the scribbler.

“I have capitalized your island at two million dollars (that’s half a million each) and I have opened a current drawing account for each of you of a hundred thousand, with loans as required ...”

What activity next day ! Climb the coconut tree? Why, of course, the man was underwritten. Oysters? They wrote out an oyster policy and waded right in up to their necks.

What a change the next week or so brought! There they sat at lunch in their comfortable Banyan Club House overlooking the sea (annual dues, a thousand dollars a year)—sat at lunch eating grilled oysters with coconut cocktails . . .

“To think,” said the little man Eddie, “that only a week ago I wanted to die!”

So that’s the allegory and of course the island is meant to be Canada, and the shipwrecked men its population. But perhaps you almost guessed that, anyway.

It’s almost a pity to mention the sequel. A little later, four laboring men tried to land on the island. The others undertook to fight them off with shotguns. That started civilization. But the pity was that if they had only had the Angel with them, he would have told them to let the laborers land and to multiply all the figures in the book by two, and add a little extra, because in developing a

country blessed by ample resources twice four is ten.

Vast Potential Assets

LET US stop and take a look at the vast potential assets in Canada waiting to be developed. Take food. We can raise in Canada more than

500,000,000 bushels of wheat. That’s more than we ourselves can use (our population uses about 120,000,000 bushels of wheat a year) as food, seed and feed. The rest would supply bread to another hundred million people if they were here.

That’s only the start. If we wanted, we could, out of our 352,000,000 acres of agricultural land, make the wheat crop four times as large (since it only covers 25,000,000 acres now) and make it, by an intensive cultivation, one and a quarter times as abundant, so that we could raise 2,500,000,000 bushels, which would go a long way toward feeding the whole western world.

Take food in general. We are using for wheat and all field crops combined only about 60,000,000 of our acres, so that even after giving wheat to all the western world we can raise three to four times as much oats, barley, potatoes and all else that goes with the cultivated field.

Shall we speak of fish, from the codfish cakes of the Atlantic to the canned salmon caught in the Pacific? We have at a conjecture a longer fishing coast—Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific—than any nation in the world. With it we have, all our own, the inland Hudson Bay (500,000 square miles) and 228,000 square miles of fresh water lakes in which to raise fish.

So much for food. Try shelter. We have in standing trees in Canada, counting only the forests that are “accessible”—wood that represents

250,000,000,000 board feet of lumber —to say nothing of 1,500,000,000 cords (that is 192,000,000,000 cubic feet of pulpwood, posts, etc.). Of the board lumber 10,000 board feet will build a comfortable wooden house. So that we have enough lumber in sight to build 25,000,000 comfortable wooden houses to house

125,000,000 people, before we begin to use brick or stones.

To warm the houses: Canadian coal beds—and coal is the “mother of electricity”are computed to contain a not insignificant proportion of all the coal on the globe. Some of the estimates made of the total have reached astronomical figures. But even discounting the dreams of geological romancers we’ve got a lot of coal—on the basis of the most conservative estimates 40,000,000,000 tons in Alberta alone. Those of us who live in small houses use about ten tons each house each year. We’ll never get through it.

Or if you consider not coal alone, but wrater pow-er. Engineering invention has taught us to utilize the power of water even when massed and choked with frazil ice. This opens

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part of the Arctic. We can harness the Coppermine when we want to. Engineers estimate our potential available water power, six months ordinary flow, at 33,000,000 horsepower; of this only 9,000,000 is developed. Compare with that the developed power of the United States, 19,000,000; of all South America 1,600,000.

Where Is the Market?

AT ONCE the objection arises.

Where can we get the market for all this stuff?

But the market objection is really just the case of the businessmen on Paradise Island. The answer is that if we can do nothing else with our food, we’ll eat it. If we can’t sell our fish, we’ll fry them. If we can’t do anything with our houses, by George! we’ll live in them—and our clothes, we’ll wear them.

But for that we need people and

BACK THE ATTACK

BUY VICTORY BONDS

more people . . . For with all that gigantic potential productive power our country is mostly empty. Leaving aside altogether the 1,468,000 square miles that lie in the northern and Arctic region outside the provinces, much of our population is crowded in a few metropolitan areas. Vast stretches of fertile habitable territory are almost without population.

How then do we set about putting to use these vast latent assets? Do we do it as free men, each working on his own? Or as men all associated in one task working together? Is it to be free competition or socialism? That’s the essence of today’s talk. That’s the edge of today’s apprehension.

Now free enterprise is a wonderful thing and governmental control is a wonderful thing. I believe in each of them, when it is actuated by the spirit of righteousness, and in neither of them without it.

Free enterprise used to be called liberty; Adam Smith called it the “Natural System of Liberty,” and to many people a hundred and fifty years ago it seemed the light of the world. On its impulse was moved the tidal wave of the world’s industrial program.

Only gradually did people begin to see the shadow behind the sunshine, and at that the poor saw it first, living in the shadow. The new wealth brought the new poverty; the new liberty of people free to starve and of others free to let them do it; the stones in place of bread; the festering slum; the cry of the children in the factories, the starvation under the name of survival of the fittest.

Freedom thus seen turns to horror —a trick to set up slavery, with the free alternative of death.

The Trouble With Socialism . . .

OVER against it is socialism, bright and iridescent as a soap bubble with all the colors of the

morning. Fit for the angels. Watch its people all singing at their work in field and factory, each busier than his fellow, each trying to outwork the other . . . “Pray, sir, I must insist; let me pick up the heavier end of this beam . . . ” “Excuse me, this is dirty work—let me ...” “Run on home, the rest of you, you’re tired, I’m going to work on till it’s dark!”

Ah yes, if that were the world we would need nothing else. If ever all people are inspired by what I have called righteousness, what the clergy call the spirit of God, that would be Utopia.

The only trouble about socialism is that it won’t work. That’s all that’s wrong with it. The edge of motive is blunted.

This motive, once called liberty, and regarded as running the entire machine, has fallen on evil times. Someone called it “the profit system,” and the epithet was like a stone through a plate-glass window.

People who had taken money all their lives and wouldn’t work without it (that is people like you and me) began to denounce dirty scoundrels who actually were out for profits. So the thing was renamed. It’s now Free Enterprise, Unlimited—no connection with the old company . . .

There is no salvation for us but a combination of both ideas, with righteousness (that means character, spirit) in each of them. Free enterprise (capitalism) alone can never reconstruct and develop Canada after the war. Taken alone, it would make a grand run forward—boom, rush, expand—and then fall flat in a waste of unemployment buried in blowing dust.

Will “free enterprise” ever look after people out of work? Never, except to send more after them. Will “free enterprise,” in and of itself, safeguard minimum wages, old age, maternity? Never. Why should it? Imagine a board of directors saying to the shareholders: “Gentlemen,

the times are so bad that we are going to take on a hundred extra men. We’ve no work for them but the poor fellows look cold.”

Enormous Latent Force

BUT would Government enterprise alone ever reconstruct and develop the country? Not alone. It would fall asleep. There’d be clerks asleep at Ottawa, managers of departments, their heads nodding on the desks—stenographers asleep with cobwebs all over them . . . And out of doors, railway men asleep at the switch—but it wouldn’t matter as the train crew would be asleep. Only a few awake, oh, yes, wide awake! Crooks elected by crooks to plunder the sleeping people. Thus all industry would sleep, like the Fairy Princess in the wood till presently Private Interest with a bright sword would cut its way through.

Maclean's Magazine, May I, 1943

But as between the two ideals both imperfect, of free competition and co-operative socialism, the war has greatly modified the ideas of many, of whom I am willing to be one. A man who hasn’t changed any of his ideas since the war started is in the class of a man who hasn’t changed his shirt—too conservative. The war has revealed to us the vast power of the co-ordinated effort of machine production, and enormous latent force we never realized.

Think of it! With two million people absorbed in fighting and in contriving death (that others may live) the labor of the others still suffices to give to the mass of our people better food, better shelter, more of life than they ever had in peace. And we could have given it to them in depression years.

Instead of that, half a million people out of work in this country were told there was nothing in it to do.

I’m ashamed of that, aren’t you? We stand indicted and convicted; I don’t mean our system. I mean us.

Keep Private Industry Going Strong

HOW do we do it? In an article such as this it is hard to give more than a general idea . . . The impatient must wait for the book I have in production or better still, read something else. But mainly this is it. We keep private industry going strong, so that we are not bound fast, each of us in a machine. When I want to publish humor I don’t want to have to submit it to a minister of humor, to see if I can make him laugh. If you have the native aim and genius to be a horse doctor you don’t want the Government to force you to be a landscape painter.

We should let private industry have a chance, as big a chance as ever. Coax it along with bounties and opportunities, and see how far north it will go. It may get even to that coal on Baffin Island. But we need with it, beside it and overlapping it, a vast Government industry that picks up the slack chain of unemployment, and runs all the harder whenever the profits system gets out of gear.

What can it do? Why, develop the country—drive roads through it like the Alaska Highway, prepare a district for a million people that has never a soul in it now. People won’t settle in the old way—the pioneer way, far from doctors, without lights and company and contact. Farmers’ wives want their Browning Clubs.

So we must have a civilization that moves on a broad front, with an advance skirmish line of highways, bridges, electric light and flying doctors in airplanes, hovering over it. Think what Canada might be, with such a new energy driving through it !

Nor in the wilderness alone. Every big city could be shovelled up, thrown away and rebuilt . . .We can’t do it all at once. We’re short of labor. The two million restored to work after the war are nothing to the needs . . .

Wake up the Reconstruction Committee and tell them it’s time to go to bed.