Calgary economic forecast calls for heavy 'humility' in 2016

Economist Todd Hirsch on how some in our city need to put away their unfashionable outsized expectations and hubris in 2016, and how humility looks good on everyone.

Todd Hirsch on the new season’s hottest economic fashions

Todd Hirsch says it's time for Calgary to try on some new economic fashions this year amidst the city's downturn, including cuts at Encana's headquarters. (davebloggs007/Creative Commons)

Fashion retailers are always selling us something new, convincing us that the stuff we bought only a year ago is hopelessly outdated. New colours, styles, and trends are the "must haves" — if for no other reason than to fuel the fires of the industry and keep retail sales humming.

Just as clothing trends come and go, perhaps we need to examine our collective character trends in Calgary this year. Our city is not the same place as it was a year or two ago, so we need to freshen up our personality wardrobe.

What are the hot new attitude styles and character trends for Calgary in 2016?

The first hot trend in Calgary this year is humility.

Time for humility

This doesn't mean feeling bad about ourselves or being overly gloomy about our future. But it does mean wearing a splash of reality that our economy is not as rock-solid as perhaps we thought it was.

A few years ago, I overheard a conversation drifting around behind me as I made my way through the hamster tubes of the Plus-15s. It was a pack of young men decked out head-to-toe in hubris — a particularly obnoxious trend in Calgary at the time.

"Oil prices can never fall too low," said one of the young bucks. "The Americans need our oil. They don't have a choice!"

For a fashion trend at the time, arrogance like this seemed normal. But today, it's laughably old fashioned. It's a bit like looking at old photos of oneself with the inevitable embarrassment of saying, "I can't believe I wore those pants!" or "Look at that haircut!"

Today we know just how wrong these guys were and how silly that hubris now looks on them.

With the North American oil benchmark price well below $40 US a barrel — an unthinkable price 18 months ago — expectations for prices have been scaled way back. It now seems unlikely that oil will rise back to even $60 for a year or maybe longer. We're reminded yet again that Calgary is still a boom-and-bust town. Humility suits every body type and can be worn nicely by people of all ages!

The second fashionable character trend in 2016 will be lower salary expectations.

Lower expectations

True, not everyone in Calgary wore their expectations too high to begin with (and indeed, thousands of Calgarians always struggle financially). But like the comically high hemlines on the hipsters' skinny suits, the hot economic trend in 2014 was to wear high salary demands — especially in oil and gas.

Six-digit base salaries for educated people in their early 30s was common. "You're worth at least that," I heard one oil patch millennial tell another (while I thought to myself… yah, right!).

In 2016, salary expectations will be much lower — and that will help rebalance the economy. Oil doesn't need to be at $100 US per barrel for Calgary's energy patch to work.

It was only 11 years ago when oil hit a then record-high price of $42 per barrel. It was raining money downtown and the province was in surplus. But over the decade-and-a-bit since then, labour costs ratcheted out of control. Average weekly earnings in Alberta's oil patch shot up 56 per cent over the last 10 years. That compares to an average increase of 29 per cent for earnings in other sectors in Canada. Now, as petroleum companies struggle to get their costs down, compensation is falling.

The good news is that the hot new trend of lower salary expectations looks good on everyone. It's very flattering.

The third notable character trend for Calgary this year is generosity.

Time to give

This has never been out of style and Calgarians have always worn it with pride and enthusiasm. But in 2016, we really need to dig deep to new levels of giving.

Less than a year into the recession, many of Calgary's social agencies are already seeing the heaviest demands on record. Groups like the United Way, the Food Bank and Inn from the Cold need help in donations of both time and money.

Syrian refugees will be arriving as well.

This will require Calgarians to wear extra layers of kindness, generosity and love on top of what we normally wear. We'll rise to the challenge, I have no doubt. Given the selfless efforts we demonstrated in the floods of 2013, we know that the garments of kindness and generosity are always at the front of our closets, ready to be flung on at a moments notice.

Character trends come and go. During the oil boom of a few years ago, some Calgarians embraced the unfortunate trends of hubris, arrogance, greed, and self-centeredness. Those all need to be thrown in the "What Not to Wear" pile and burned.

The 2016 fashion trends for Calgary's character look good on everyone — humility, reasonable pay expectations, generosity, and charity. Adorned in these, we can brave the coldest economic winters and fight the nastiest financial droughts.

CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.


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