Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conservatives Cheer More McJobs and Unsustainable "Growth" -- Oh, And Where are Those Numbers From, Anyway?

The Conservatives and their supporters are trying to claim credit for the latest job figures. They also tout the the IMF's “economic growth” projections for next year. But even if we believe the numbers, most of the new jobs are part-time. It is also unclear how many of them are ecologically sustainable. The IMF's “growth” forecast takes the Conservative government's budget projections as the starting point – hardly an impartial source. The IMF's measure of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) also does not seem to substract growing pollution, health costs and resource depletion from the “growth” numbers. People who have to pull out ducks from the Tar Sands tailings ponds could tell you just how “Gross” the Gross Domestic Product can be. It is time to start creating real, full-time jobs in green-collar sectors, and ensuring that “growth” numbers are real and verifiable.

The Canadian unemployment rate apparently held steady in September 2008, with new jobs being created despite the economic turmoil on the horizon in that month. This fits nicely into the Conservative election strategy, but it sounds just a bit too good to be true. Private-sector economists are scratching their heads:

"'It seems like everyone has a paper route these days,' said Avery Shenfeld, economist at CIBC World Markets. 'How else to explain how Canada created 97,000 part-time jobs in a single month during a period of severe economic strain across the country?'"

There are other reasons to be a bit sceptical. Recently, we've seen suppression of studies on the benign effects of carbon taxes (discussion) and the negative health effects of climate change, allegations of outright political interference with government scientists, plus fudged numbers of the cost of the Afghan war. “Et tu, StatsCan”? (Their own statement on data quality is here.)

Also, if you believe the numbers,

With September's increase, part-time work has increased by 131,000 so far in 2008, nearly double the increase in full time.” (StatsCan).

In other words, more McJobs.

(See also Relentlessly Progressive Economics blog.)


“Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had a muted reaction to the data. “'This is not a time for unfounded optimism. This is a difficult time'... '"But our economic fundamentals are good. [...]'” (

Good economic fundamentals in an economy that is not ecologically sustainable? StatsCan does not say exactly how many of the new jobs depend on depleting non-renewable resources and/or pollute the environment without paying the true cost. But in the “goods-producing sector” so far this year, the job number changes were:


-6.0 %

Natural resources

+4.2 %


+6.8 %


+10.4 %


-2.1 %

How many of these jobs are truly sustainable is anyone's guess. It would be nice to have a Green Jobs Index for a more realistic picture.

By the way, “Information, culture and recreation” was at -4.9 % so far this year -- so much for Harper's famous rich artists' galas.

The IMF's “growth” projections are suspect for similar reasons. The IMF had started with the Conservative government's budget numbers and growth projections from way before the current crisis had hit:

Canada. Projections use the baseline forecasts in the 2008 federal budget and the 2007 Economic Statement. The IMF staff makes some adjustments to this forecast for differences in macroeconomic projections. The IMF staff forecast also incorporates the most recent data releases from Statistics Canada, including provincial and territorial budgetary outturns through the first quarter of 2008. ”

(Statistical Appendix [PDF], screen pages 2-3 of 12)

Just how much they believe the Harper/Flaherty budget numbers and how much they “adjust” is unclear.

Again, even if we believe the numbers, the GDP is notorious for not counting the real costs of pollution, health problems and depletion of resources. For example, The IMF projects China's GDP “growth” in 2009 to be 9.3% but in recent years

Independent estimates of the cost to China of environmental degradation and resource depletion have for the last decade ranged from 8 to 12 percentage points of GDP growth.[2] These estimates support the idea that, by this measure at least, the growth of the Chinese economy is close to zero” (Wikipedia: “Green GDP” and the sources quoted there).

Searching for “Green GDP” on the IMF's web site produced no results as of today. In fact, searching the full text of the IMF report (PDF) for “pollution” produced nothing. Resource depletion is mentioned only once, as a challenge for older middle-eastern oil fields (screen page 77 of 321) – as if depleting non-renewable resources elsewhere does not count. Memo to IMF: these resources are not coming back. Using up your natural capital as if it were annual revenue is hardly good accounting – or economics.

Let's stop kidding ourselves about “jobs and growth” and start creating sustainable jobs in a sustainable economy. Voting strategically to defeat the Conservatives on October 14 would be the first, vital step.

[Important Notice]

No comments: