The message Im going to deliver message today is unabashedly optimistic.
The conclusion is that Canada, and indeed much of the world, are now facing, economically at least, the most promising prospects in decades and certainly the most promising since the end of the Second World War some 50 years ago.
What Im going to do is the mirror image of Peter Cooks talk and sketch out the reasons why I believe this to be the case, first in a global context, and then Ill try and relate that global picture as I see it to Canada.
Beginning then with the big picture, this closing decade of the 20th century marks not only the dawn of the new millennium, but also of a hopeful new economic and political epoch.
We all know that the eclipse of global communism symbolized by the destruction of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989 lifted the nuclear gloom and I think this is true, notwithstanding the recent bomb-testing side-show in India and Pakistan.
I think its a fact that today the worlds material and intellectual resources are no longer focussed on the threat of global holocaust, but rather on economic growth and human progress.
Thats a very significant change in the circumstances as we face the new millennium.
The truth is that a Pax Americana reigns today.
And this is creating the rare conditions of global order under which economic life can thrive. As we heard this morning, the American model of capitalism the intellectual and institutional roots of which are actually more British than American but no matter that model now stands unchallenged.
And the alternative models of the market economy that were developed in continental Europe, in Japan, and in Southeast Asia have proven unable to match the innovation, flexibility and institutional robustness that underpin the success of American capitalism and its a success that we in Canada have shared in our own particular way.
With no hostile power even remotely positioned to challenge the United States militarily, the energies of most nations are now being channelled into global economic competition.
Of course, it would be completely naive to assume that truly large-scale military conflict is forever a thing of the past. But we can at least be optimistic that the international spread of democratic institutions favours the continuance of generally peaceful conditions, if only because democratic states have rarely, if ever, gone to war with one another. Thats an interesting thought that perhaps we should ponder.
But the optimistic prospect rests on more than this encouraging security environment, though that clearly is important. It is equally significant that after 25 years of stagnant productivity growth in virtually all of the advanced countries not just in Canada and the United States there is finally the promise of an extended surge in productivity, and a corresponding elevation of living standards.
And youre going to hear a lot in this talk about productivity, so lets pause for a moment and focus on what it is because the central importance of productivity growth by which I mean growth in the production and services per hour worked is not sufficiently appreciated.
In the words of Paul Krugman, a quoted economist from MIT:
"Productivity isnt everything, but in the long run, its almost everything. To a pretty close approximation, the rate of growth in our living standards equates to the rate of growth of our domestic productivity period."
And, in fact, he equates a nations competitiveness and I would agree with this essentially with the rate of growth of its productivity.
When you understand this it explains the stagnant performance of family incomes during the past two-and-a-half decades in both Canada and the U.S. The reason is that productivity growth collapsed for reasons that are still somewhat mysterious in the early 1970s.
Let me just give you a few facts.
Between the end of the War and 1973, productivity in North America averaged about 2.7 per cent annually sufficient to double the average living standard in a mere 25 years. That was the golden age of prosperity. At that rate you get three doublings of living standard in a lifetime. And thats why that period is remembered now by those who lived through it as the Golden Age of Prosperity.
Since 1973, annual productivity growth has averaged barely one per cent. At that rate it takes 70 years to double living standards. So for the last 25 years, weve been in a prosperity funk.
I believe that funk is now ending. Productivity is once again poised to increase at a healthy clip probably not up to the early post-war levels, because were not starting from such a deficit of capital and recovery after a war and the Depression that preceded it but still a lot better than weve become used to in this generation.
Basically, the productivity recovery will be the result of things that David Zussman just spoke of; the pace of innovation in information technology and communications, but also in biotechnology, and in the science of materials, and importantly the combination of those technology developments with the emergence of competitive markets almost everywhere, and the continued liberalization of world trade.
All of these things, when you take them together, is really what we mean by the knowledge-based global economy.
The early signs of a broad-based recovery of productivity growth in North America may, in fact and I believe do, signal the long-awaited pay-off from the enormous investment in information technology; am amazing figure, about two trillion U.S. dollars worldwide since the early 1970s.
Today, information technology investment accounts for almost half of total annual business investment in the United States and in most of the advanced countries.
It is still too soon to be confident that information technology will sustain a long-run productivity boom. But there are good reasons to believe that it will and the reasons are primarily the rapid spread of computer literacy in the generation under 40, and the re-engineering of business processes, which is even better to lever the power of IT. These are finally reaching the critical mass where significant economic pay-off starts to be felt.
If you look historically, you can understand this so-called lack of productivity of the IT investment in the macro-economic statistics, because we say a similar thing in the 19th century after the introduction of electrical machinery.
It took 30 years after the introduction of the electric motor to factories late in the 19th century before manufacturing processes became fully adapted to this new technology and the resulting productivity began to show up through the economy.
So, what I think weve seen in the last 25 years or so where this huge investment in information technology has been made is simply the lag of adaptation to such a fundamental paradigm shift.
The most encouraging aspect of the knowledge-based economy is its apparent sustainablity. Thats because the new sources of growth are based on ideas, and on the movement and shaping of information. That, of course, is a form of growth that is little, if at all, constrained by environmental and material limits.
So in my view, to sum all this up, a global prospect featuring years of relative peace and prosperity and one has to emphasize the word relative is the most likely scenario. Of course, there are going to be exceptions. And, indeed, there are some legitimate concerns with this rosy picture and youll already be thinking of those.
To anticipate you a little bit, Ill cite a few of the downsides that occur to me.
The first one is the question of whether the natural environment is able to absorb the added pressure of population growth, but its not really population growth, its the combination with rising incomes and aspirations in what used to be called the Third World, to say nothing of our own appetites, which certainly are never satisfied.
Only time will tell whether a combination of technology fixes, lifestyle changes, better market signals, and effective international agreements will create the conditions for genuinely sustainable development. That clearly is going to be one of the major challenges facing society in the 21st century.
We also have to be concerned that inequality is on the rise as markets, and not governments, are increasingly the arbiters of income generation and its distribution. But here at least the coin is at least two-sided. For while increasing income inequality is evident within countries like the United States and the U.K. and to a lesser but growing extent here in Canada the inequality between the rich and the poor nations has at last begun to narrow.
What seems to be happening is that inequality is gradually diminishing internationally at the same time as it is increasing intra-nationally. The political challenge facing those in the rich countries who advocate continued trade liberalization in the face of this is fairly clear. And I dont mean by citing this that weve reached the point where the convergence is assured between the poor and the rich. It certainly isnt.
And there are many poor countries that are not making progress. But, I think as a general thesis there are finally some signs of convergence as a result of the globalization of production and capital flows. Thats the positive side.
Finally, we have to recognize that our technologically-dependent, globally-interacting society is increasingly vulnerable to the disruptive acts of both man and nature.
Last Januarys ice storm brought this message home to those of us in Montreal in a very concrete way. Another example is the enormous cost that its going tor require to correct the "Millennium Bug" in the worlds computers assuming we even can correct across a sufficiently broad range of the system and soon enough.
In fact, there is a host of "system vulnerabilities" that we are now becoming aware of things like ozone depletion; the spread of exotic and lethal organisms like the AIDS virus; or the contagious" transmission of economic shocks via global-integrated financial markets.
Im even coming to the view that our growing dependence on microchips, microprocessors, wondrous as they are in so many ways, is in a sense the biggest vulnerability of all.
Computer chips are today found in almost everything in fact 90 per cent of them are not in PCs. They epitomize the inter-connectedness of modern society. But, the question is how vulnerable are they?
In one sense you have to say not very since microchips are so widely dispersed and there is so much redundancy. But consider that the detonation of an atomic device at very high altitude in the stratosphere so it has an extremely broad footprint on the globe would generate a powerful pulse of electromagnetic energy which some authorities estimate would be enough to "fry" most of the microchips on earth instantly and irredeemably.
In fact, I heard a guy last night a Newfoundlander who was in Nagasaki 53 years ago when the atom bomb dropped. He was at the epicentre of the explosion, but he was working on a dock. He said nothing burned around him except the transformers. Every electrical transformer caught fire. And that was the shorting caused by this electromagnetic pulse.
Think of that in the context of our hand-wringing over the simple Millennium Bug, if instantly and globally all the microchips in the world were shorted out.
I mention these things, not because I believe its going to happen. There are going to be many challenges in the 21st century. Many of them we havent dreamt of yet.
I dont think the prospective threats overwhelm our opportunities; in fact, quite the opposite.
But we do have to remind ourselves that the we havent seen the end of history.
Indeed, I think the lesson of history is that there is an entropy in human affairs which is a persistent tendency for things to go off the rails that eventually transforms order into chaos, and so the cycle repeats.
But for now and I think for several years to come optimism is going to dominate the basic human prospect.
So, what about Canadas prospects then in this context?
Against this global back-drop that is exceptionally up-beat.
Canadas prospects if we look beyond the daily noise of the dollar, the TSE, the monthly jobless rates, and all the other economic sound-bites that are sent to distract us from the big picture Canadas prospects are even more promising than those of the world generally.
We are finally ready to shed the three-decade blues that followed our centennial year in 1967 and were the subject of a recent book by Pierre Berton, called The Last Good Year.
Im just going to run through some of the reasons why I think we can be bullish and theyre familiar in a way, but Ill put my own spin on them.
The first is that order has finally been restored to our public finances and, as Paul Martin reminded us last night, weve got the best fiscal numbers in the G-7 on a current basis. Our debt ratio isnt quite there yet.
Secondly, our international competitiveness has more than recovered the ground lost during the 1980s. The tremendous export success of Canada bears testament to that. The structure of our exports reflects a remarkable and little remarked on upgrading of the Canadian economy.
This stubborn image of Canadians as "hewers of wood and drawers of water" has become completely outdated. As recently as 1980, 60 per cent of Canadas goods exports were resource commodities and now that share in the first quarter of 1998 is under 30 per cent. Autos and machinery today account for about 50 per cent, up from a mere 28 per cent just 18 years ago.
Unfortunately, our international image as simply a lumbering, unsophisticated raw materials producer, indeed, dies hard with the result that were presumed in the superficial analysis of the currency traders to be much more vulnerable to Asias economic woes than at least the current trade facts would justify. There may be other reasons why the contagious impact of trouble in Asia through the financial sector will affect us, but in that respect Canada will be no worse than others.
Meanwhile, our international cost competitiveness has been improving steadily.
Our unit labour costs the cost in Canadian dollars to produce a standard of production in the economy have been falling relative to those in the U.S. since 1991 and not just because of the depreciating dollar. When you factor in the dollar it just boosts the improvement enormously.
Weve also had a better overall combination of productivity growth and restrained wages. The ratio of which gives you the unit labour costs.
Indeed, The Economist magazine reported, based on a survey last January, that the overall cost of doing business in Canada was the lowest in the G-7.
Ive got to say a word or two on the dollar because its so topical. The depreciating dollar does make most Canadian product producers a lot more cost-competitive in cost terms and it encourages Canadians to buy at home, all of which creates more jobs domestically. And thats the upside.
So whats the problem?
The usual concern about a falling currency is that it stimulates inflation, because devaluation both increases prices of imports and tends to heat up the domestic economy. But there are no signs of inflation, whatsoever, in Canada today, so why should the authorities worry.
I think there are four reasons why they perhaps might worry: