Economists love poring over reams of statistics to see if they can find meaningful patterns and trends. One of the most popular sets of data for discerning economic vibrancy and consumer confidence is retail sales. But an often-overlooked set of data can also offer similar insight: receipts at food and drinking establishments.
To many locals, it’s heaven on earth. To others, it’s a whole lot of noise, rowdy parties and people dressed up like children at Halloween. Love it or hate it, the Calgary Stampede – which kicks off today – is an economic boon to the city that is anything but trivial.
Economic principles are at work everywhere you look. This month, I had the chance to visit Spain, a country that’s been the focus of much unwanted attention about the abysmal state of its economy. During my trip, two examples of economic principles were highlighted – one hilarious, the other quite tragic.
The hilarious example comes from microeconomics and theories of the profit-maximizing firm. As we sat at a Valencian café in a beautiful, sun-soaked plaza enjoying our tapas and pintxos, a young lady came by our table offering samples of baguette drizzled with a new brand of olive oil she was promoting. With one bite, I swore I’ve never tasted a more delicious olive oil in my life.
What would the perfect economy look like? A decent-sized market of about 10 million people, tide water access to Asia, plentiful mineral and energy resources, rich agricultural land, abundant forestry, a highly educated population, a liberal democratic government, and low corruption. Throw in stunning natural scenery and two of The Economist’s most livable cities in the world – and there you’d have it: economic perfection.
History is rife with stories of how the mighty can fall – and fall spectacularly. Achilles had his heel problems. Nixon was done in with audio tapes. Even the mighty Goliath was felled by a boy and a slingshot. The common element in all such stories is that they didn’t even see it coming.
A news story 20 years from today could well start like this:
May 9, 2034 – Victoria, B.C.: Thousands of angry, unemployed tradespeople marched on British Columbia’s legislative grounds yesterday in protest of what they see as government inaction. The problem stems from massive investments in postsecondary education made some two decades ago to train pipefitters, welders and electricians – all of which were in high demand in the early 2020s. But since B.C.’s major LNG facilities and pipelines were completed in 2031, thousands of workers – mostly male and in their mid-40s – have been thrown permanently out of work.
When most of us think of geothermal energy, we think of the small-scale heat pump systems used to heat a building or a few homes. But large-scale geothermal projects tap heat much deeper in the Earth’s crust to produce electricity, a technique that works well in places like Iceland and the Philippines.
‘That’s easy to answer,” said Svanhildur Konradsdottir, when asked what is the most important thing her city does as a business centre. “We promote our artists and we promote our culture. It’s what we are. It’s in everything we do.”
Ms. Konradsdottir is director of culture and tourism for the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. When she uttered these words at a business breakfast at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, she may not have been aware how strongly the same sentiment is growing in Alberta’s capital.
You’ve got to hand it to Western Canadian grain farmers – it’s never easy for them. Name another sector that needs to worry about flood, drought, heat, frost, rain, grasshoppers, rising input prices, mice, hail and crop disease. It’s always something.
In 2014, you can add to the list of frustrations an inability to get rail cars. For reasons that vary depending on whom you ask, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway have been slow in delivering grain hopper cars to elevators this winter. Due to the bumper crops that were harvested last fall, elevators across the Prairies are plugged to the gills with grain – they can’t take in any more. And if farmers can’t deliver their grain, they don’t get paid. And then they get mad.
Economically, Alberta is commonly compared to the other provinces with a host of superlatives – lowest unemployment, fastest population growth, strongest investment markets, etc. – and normally, these comparisons place Alberta at the head of the parade. But new research reveals one area where Alberta is, at best, in the middle of the pack. This may have serious implications for the province’s future economic prospects.
A recent report from Statistics Canada on business innovation suggests that companies in Alberta are well behind the national average on investments in advanced technology. The types of advanced technology identified in the survey include computerized design and engineering, automated material handling, information integration and control technologies, biotechnologies and green technologies, to name a few.