Age of Anxiety stoking fires of widespread economic instability

We all love stability in our economy.

At a personal level: predictable prices for food and shelter, incomes we can count on, taxes that don’t gyrate.

Even at a level we cannot personally influence, we want it, too: allies who have our backs, trade patterns and supply chains that keep on keeping on, foreign leaders who seem hinged.

Face it, though: we are in an Age of Anxiety.

It is difficult to recall how so many economic concerns and disruptions have reached into so many quarters in recent weeks to test our resilience and our leaders’ qualities to manage them. Europe is split, with the Brexit dust nowhere near settling. Latin America is mired in a high-corruption, low-growth scenario.

America has been made irrational for what feels like an eternity by its current president.

China, entangled with the United States, is very simply angry and doling out punishment for our role in apprehending the CFO of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, and subjecting her to a protracted extradition hearing. The uncertainty and dithering of the Canadian decision concerning the implementation of Huawei’s 5G technology is a related irritant.

The coronavirus, COVID-19, is incapacitating large elements of the crucial chain that furnishes many of our essentials and conveniences. The panic about it is hobbling businesses and depriving millions of work worldwide as Xi Jinping’s first existential crisis.

The impact on well--being locally and globally is disproportionate to the threat to our health, but the pernicious virus has thrown a log on a fire we thought we had doused: a 2020 recession or economic stumble. So many scrutinized the bond market, its yield curves in particular, and concluded last year that a recession was inevitable. But the markets, consumers and businesses kept chugging along to perpetuate stability against the odds.

Well, the bullet may not be dodged, after all.

While China’s economy will rebound, the virus will shave what our finance minister says will be a “significant” slice from our entwined economy this year. 

As if these conditions were not enough, closer to home you cannot look past the sudden focus on the division within the Wet’suwet’en leadership, and on the fierce effort of climate change activism to align with hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline to wreak havoc and instability.

Trains, planes and automobiles – well, helicopters if not planes – and goods, services and officials were diverted from their routines of serving this economic stability. Like COVID-19, there is a viral unpredictability about its path or its duration.

In an age of social media oversharing, the aggressive economic intervention last week of blockades was an absolute surprise attack. If anyone in authority knew it was coming, no one let on, so we should suspect there is a parallel, ingenious method to fly below the radar that imperils at will and will not soon relent in the era of climate concern.

Debates erupted among scholars about who holds the hierarchy among band chiefs – the elected or the hereditary – and what will constitute credible rule of law in an evolved environment of free, prior and informed consent and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  on ancestral lands. Do any of us have a clear answer to that question?

Last week’s show of force in the face of power was a wake-up call in one respect, a layering of anxiety in another. It is going to require more formal, uncomfortable recognition – not just scolding about the overstepping of the protests – but both John Horgan and Justin Trudeau are authors of their own misfortune here.

They established expectations of nation-to-nation negotiation, prodded of course by the courts, and did not brace wider society for the implications of what they promised. Now they will need to step up, at least to address the reasonable voices in this chorus, given that there is within that chorus a radical mission to stop everything and oppose anything in the service of breeding our anxiety.


Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.