Todd Hirsch on Canada's economic decline

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This extended interview is a web exclusive from Type A. An edited version of this interview airs on CBC Radio One Monday, March 12, at 2:00 p.m. and Friday, March 16, at 8:00 p.m. (half an hour later in Newfoundland and parts of Labrador).

We've all heard the fable about the frog and boiling water. A frog dropped in hot water will jump right back out, but a frog dropped in cool water will stay put, even as the temperature climbs sky high. Economist and author Todd Hirsch argues that in the global economy, Canada is just like that frog. And if we don't make some serious changes soon, it may be too late to jump out of the pot. This idea is the foundation for Hirsch's new book, The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada from Economic Decline, co-authored with Canada West Foundation's vice president of research, Robert Roach.

According to Hirsch, the global economy is rapidly changing and Canada is simply not making an effort to keep up. "The global economy is heating up," he explained to Type A host Rod Love in a recent interview. "We can't rely on the same trading patterns and the same economic structure that has served us so well for the last hundred years or so."

Hirsch argues that the reason Canada hasn't been as forward-thinking and innovative as other countries is because we haven't had to try that hard to maintain our robust economy, thanks to our powerful trading partner south of the border. "We've never had to learn how to market ourselves, not like other countries have had to do," Hirsh explained."We got quite rich and quite well off just by exporting [resources] to the United States."

However, the centre of the global economy is shifting from the United States eastward. Canada can't compete with Asia's technological innovation and cheap labour. But Hirsch says that's okay. He points to other western countries as examples Canada can follow, such as Scandinavia, Australia and Israel, who are thriving during this global shift by exploiting what Hirsch calls their "creative energies."

"What's powering those economies is not resources, necessarily, but applications of creative ideas," Hirsch said. Canada can easily do the same, by shifting our understanding of what creates wealth. It's not natural resources, it's knowledge-based ones. "We should be focusing on what creates wealth," Hirsch argued. Canada could become a leader in exploring how resources are extracted, or become a leader in environmental technologies. The choice is up to us. We just need to start looking forward and planning for the future.

So, how does Canada do this?According to Hirsch, we can start by talking about it, and by building a community that shares and supports creativity. "An idea someone has in isolation, rarely, flourishes," he said. "It's only when you are in a community of people talking about ideas, talking about business ventures, talking about new products or new things we can do, that's important."

StampedeThe Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada from Economic Decline
by Todd Hirsch and Robert Roach

From the publisher: 

"The Boiling Frog Dilemma argues that Canada in the 21st century is at risk of falling behind internationally. We need to seriously 'up our game' in terms of creativity, innovation, risk taking, entrepreneurialism, cosmopolitanism, community, and re-thinking environmental stewardship -- or risk becoming economically irrelevant on the global stage."

Read more at The Boiling Frog Dilemma.