One for the trash.

I love efficiency.  On my morning commute I never walk slow, stand stationary on escalators or take the scenic route; I love a straight and orderly queue. I get personal satisfaction when I can arrive at work in under a half hour and display an uncharacteristic rage when there is a transit delay or if someone takes the elevator up only one floor.

Doing things efficiently can save time, energy, money and is over all convenient. It’s the Western way. We judge the value of everything against how efficient it is in hopes of having the ideal well-oiled and cost effective machine. In fact, as I write this I read the last two paragraphs over and over to see if there is anything that I can cut so I can get to the point sooner.

Here it is:

I’m afraid we’ve made efficiency a false idol.

Efficiency reigns supreme over everything we do and some most times it shouldn’t. Like when it comes to personal relationships…and Government services.

I work in Government services so I’m aware of my bias, but I’m also aware that more often than not people are more concerned with how long it takes and how much red tape there is rather than whether they are receiving the most out of the services they are eligible for and pay for through taxes.

This week the Toronto City Council voted to outsource garbage collection. The company who won the bid promises to offer the service for  $11.2 million a year less than unionized city workers AND with 30 less trucks.

The city sings Handel’s Hallelujah chorus in perfect harmony.

It seems people (outside of my circle) unanimously think this is the best thing to happen to Toronto since they erected that giant tower tourists love. Not because through thoughtful consideration of facts and figures it was revealed that outsourcing would a) have any tangible cost savings to citizens b) be more convenient and reliable or c) make Toronto a better and more livable city.

This motion was passed as payback for a legal strike the city workers (including garbage collectors) had in 2009. The union didn’t have the support of the general public* and the general public was generally pissed off that they had to deal with their own garbage- that they created and up until then had magically whisked away each week- that they couldn’t wait to give the union a spanking.

So what now? Well, Mayor Rob Ford is RAVING about the outsourced garbage collection in the borough of Etobicoke. I was looking through some jobs with a client today and my jaw almost dropped when I saw this.

I would say for dealing with waste during all types of weather, garbage collectors deserve their wage, which probably allows them to own a home, take their family on vacation and enjoy a pretty status quo life. But $12 an hour? how is anyone to support life on that wage?

I also come from a town that recently privatized their garbage collection. There were no tangible tax savings to citizens. Not only that but the company started allowing only one bag free and charging $2 per bag of garbage after that. Probably a good sustainable idea but NOT the cost savings the citizenry were looking for.

Friends, I love efficiency, but the associated- albeit questionable- capital savings just does not outweigh the human cost. We WANT good paying jobs in this city! without them it is a race to the bottom to see how much everyone’s wages can deflate.

*One of the main issues was the right to bank sick days. Very few people considered the fact that banking sick days was a concession for having a salary freeze for over 10 years, very few people also considered the fact that the length of the strike was caused just as much by management refusing to follow through on negotiations as it was the unions.

International Monetary Fund: Beginning of the End?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was founded in 1944 for the purpose of offering low interest loans to European countries to aid in post World War II reconstruction.  The initial objective of this institution was to provide a framework of economic policies to help war torn countries avoid the same economic frailties that lead to the great depression.  Into the 1960’s the IMF’s mandate evolved from post war reconstruction to post colonial development for new member states achieving political independence and again in the 1990’s for former USSR states.  The IMF claims that their macro economic policies and financial sector surveillance help ensure economic stability within member states, specifically with the implementation of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) in exchange for low interest loans.  According the IMF website, these policies mean to “foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty” but in effect, these policies have trapped states in foreign debt due to volatile market conditions.
A perfect example of the IMF’s policies at work is in the Sub Saharan country of Ghana.  For over a decade the IMF praised Ghana, the first Sub Saharan country to implement mandated policies, as being a perfect example of growth and stability resulting from economic adjustment.  Although the full publication is not available on the IMF website the article “Ghana: Adjustment and Growth” displays how the implementation of IMF policies in 1983, brought Ghana to be the structural adjustment “poster child”.  The SAPs, which admonish countries to privatize state assets, become export oriented and open investment to international actors, were initially beneficial to the Ghanian economy.  In fact, Ghana’s GDP rose 5.3 % in the first 2 years of policy adjustment with per capita income increasing by 2.6% in the same time frame.  This steady growth has been linked to the increase in Cocoa exports between these years.  As a result, the IMF requested that Ghana increase it’s cocoa production to meet with the projected three-year rise in the cocoa market. As per the IMF’s request, cocoa production in Ghana doubled between the 1983 and 1995.
Despite economic growth, the increase in cocoa production turned Ghana’s once diversified and mostly subsistent agricultural sector into a mono-crop, export oriented sector.  An article submitted by the African Department of the IMF states that because of global market recessions, greater competition between Ghana and other cocoa producing countries, and lack of demand to meet the supply, the bottom fell out of the cocoa market cutting prices in half in 1993.  Due to a lack of export diversification and the volatility of the global market, this ultimately left Ghana- once the most referenced Structural Adjustment success story- with an unsustainable economy.
The IMF seems to understand security by way of economic stability. In the case of Ghana, and many other countries in the global south, the IMF creates a framework of policies, particularly in regards to foreign trade, which capitalize off the member countries’ comparative advantage.  In this case, the IMF pushed Ghana to expand it’s cocoa production.  Unfortunately, a country’s reliance on the market for commodity export cannot sustain economic stability as the volatility of the global market cannot and does not provide a solid foundation for long-term economic prosperity.  This is the argument held by Raul Prebisch, the former secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.  Prebisch claims that the price of primary goods (like cocoa) are more vulnerable to market crashes than secondary goods therefore, Ghana’s mono-crop economy can be compared to the parable of the person who built their house on the sand, only to have it wash away during the first rainfall.
This is not to say that the policy frameworks, which the IMF enforces does not provide economic security at all.  It is just a matter of whose interests these policies serve.  Creating commodity based economies in the Global South, all the while keeping them trapped in interest payments from external loans ensures that the IMF will continue to hold the place of power in these countries domestic policies.   This in turn allows core countries, and not coincidentally IMF financial supporters, to exploit the material resources of the third world by ensuring that each commodity exporting country is in competition to be the lowest bidder.  In the case of Ghana, the country had no choice but to lower it’s cocoa prices in 1993 due to external competition and lack of market demand.  Although this severely affected the Ghanian economy, the rest of the world was able to purchase commodities at a lower price.  Therefore, the IMF’s SAPs  did not create a secure economy in Ghana despite the decade and a half of economic growth.  Rather, it created an economy, which may experience the highs of the global market in prosperous times but is ultimately, unsustainable.