Friday, October 31, 2008

Midnight reflections

Somewhere between getting hit with a paintball from a rusted-out K-car while walking with a friend at the corner of Osborne and Broadway (and being called a "f---ing faggot" from one of the car's screaming passengers) at 8:30 P.M., and riding from Downtown, to St. Boniface, to Corydon--the trendy walkable area, you know--and West Broadway to look for a place where one could buy a cup of coffee and perhaps some french fries at 12:30 A.M. (and finding nothing but, at best, indifferent slackers who offered little more than a feeble "sorry, bro, the kitchen jus' closed") - I decided that I do not really like Winnipeg. The only parts of Winnipeg that I do like are whatever remnants remain of sixty, eighty, a hundred years ago, or whatever comes close to resembling, however modestly, a real and normally functioning city. A city where one doesn't have to drink and drive in order to have a relatively enjoyable night out with friends.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Better late than never

My first and elementary attempt to write about something that is not a streetscape in Winnipeg, written several weeks ago (before the New York Times reported that Congress was strong-arming Fannie Mae into giving riskier and riskier home loans, for example) was published in the Uniter last Friday:

W hen the U.S. Congress rejected the initial bill to approve a $700 billion government bailout package of the American financial sector on Sept. 29, observers deemed this as proof that the free market does not work and that governments must have a greater, more regulatory role in the economy. Keynesian talking heads on cable news and radio programs struggled to restrain their giggles at the thought of Wall Street – that great bastion of capitalism – going cap-in-hand to governments for help.

What this crisis actually demonstrates is how true capitalism and its philosophical counterparts, individual freedom and personal responsibility, became increasingly absent in the U.S. economy in the few years leading up to this current meltdown. This includes the freedom to fail and the responsibility to learn from these failures...

When the negative consequence of decisions are supposedly thwarted by a coddling government that rewards investors with exorbitant bailouts, the risk is gone and there is no longer reason for investors (and consumers) to practice restraint. The very things the government attempts to “save” the market from are only perpetuated...

(the rest...)


Where is the financial crisis? Not on "main street" Bloomington MN over the weekend, where the hordes of consumers still waddled through the hamster maze at IKEA, and the aisles of Urban Outfitters, H & M, Club Monaco, Banana Republic, and even Brooks Brothers. Worried faces were nowhere to be seen in the city on the busy night-time sidewalks on Hennepin, First Ave., or Cedar-Riverside, either.


A source at CBC informed me that an application to demolish the Kelly House has indeed been submitted to the City. This will be the owner's second attempt to demolish in several years. Would it be too cynical of me to assume that Council will turn down this application, but that he'll be back in a few years--the Kelly House a little more decrepit? Anything can be demolished in Winnipeg, it just takes 10-20 years of willful negligence.


I am voting for the Conservative Party tomorrow. I don't think they're particularly great, but I cannot imagine voting for anyone else. I believe in liberty, the Rule of Law, the rules of economics, and that I am capable enough to care for my own family, and spend my own money. I am no longer in a position to vote as an altruist (I do not wish to pay higher income tax so the man down the street can pay none, for example).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kelly House up next?

Word is, the owner of the 126-year-old Kelly House at 88 Adelaide Street has big plans for the historic house. Will it be a dentist's office, an upscale bistro, a residence for a member of the city's wealthy and fashionable set? Is there plans to renovate, or sell?

Actually--and who could have ever predicted this--the owner wants an expanded parking lot.

If this is true, the owner is on his way: whether under public or private ownership, sitting on a property for years without making any apparent attempts to restore it is the first step toward that happy day you find a demolition permit in your mailbox.

But you're not there yet. I know it sounds crazy, but diminishing the quality of a National Historic Site by removing one of its municipally-designated heritage structures is just not what it used to be.

What you're going to need to do next:

2) Convince the public that your vacant property suddenly and magically declined to the point of no return. "I showed up one day and it was just like that."

3) Hire an architect to make your parking lot look flashy. Make sure the architect puts a sports car in the drawing. Works like a charm. Lots of yuppie types standing on the sidewalks chatting to eachother ("Hey want to walk around this vacant wasteland and see if we can find a place we could actually get a coffee?") is also essential.

4) Make yourself an expert on history, architecture and urbanism to convince the equally untrained minds at the City that this is not going to be just another parking lot. Most people have begun to think large surface parking lots are bad for downtown Winnipeg, but only in theory. On a case by case basis, they're usually ok. But you need to convince them of this. Tell them that some shrubs and a fence will create an inviting street wall that fits the context of the neighborhood.

5) Heritage Winnipeg might normally be an issue. Fortunately for you, they appear to have exhausted all their resources saving the parking lot at Fort and Assiniboine Ave. earlier this year. Phew!

6) Threaten the public that if are not allowed to demolish the property in question, then you will move to another city and sit on historical properties there.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Welcome to the next ten years

Interesting op-ed from Associated Press on the Free Press' website, "Depression offers lessons for financial crisis." The lesson to learn, it seems, is that it would be wrong to "do nothing" and leave the market to its own devices. No problem there, since post-Enron, the U.S. financial system has been regulated as never before.

It also follows the mythical narrative that President Hoover "didn't take strong enough action or do so quickly enough" in the years after the Crash of '29. But as Alan Reynolds, wrote in the Financial Post on Wednesday, the Depression essentially gained its "Greatness" not by what Hoover didn't do, but what he did (and what Roosevelt did after him):

"Herbert Hoover initiated a violent implosion of world trade and prices by signing the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff on June 17, 1930. The Commercial and Financial Chronicle then observed “a renewed violent collapse of the stock market.” Benjamin Anderson, the chief economist for Citibank at the time, called the draconian tariffs Hoover’s “crowning financial folly” and explained why:

'In a world staggering under a load of international debt, which could be carried only if countries under pressure could produce goods and export them to their creditors, we, the great creditor nation of the world, with tariffs already too high, raised our tariffs again ... Protectionism ran wild over the world. Markets were cut off. Trade lines were narrowed. Unemployment in the export industries all over the world grew with great rapidity, and the prices of export commodities ... dropped with ominous rapidity.'"

This piece of history may be inconsequential, were it not in danger of being repeated. Reynolds goes on:
"Obama’s Hooveresque vision of raising corporate taxes by 25% (in the guise of closing loopholes and tax havens), and of trying to raise income, payroll and investment tax rates for those who already bear most of the federal tax burden, is just dangerous."

Perhaps more dangerous than that, would be if Obama acted on his protectionist rants against NAFTA during the Democratic nomination campaign. Let Canadians hope for the sake of our own relative economic stability that this was just hollow anti-Clinton talk to pander to organized labour.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Frozen credit: ice to see you

Don Boudreaux over at Cafe Hayek points out that we are continually reminded that credit has frozen, or is close to freezing. (In the Free Press today, Nicholas Hirst says that "borrowing isn't just becoming more expensive, loans are becoming difficult to get.") In spite of this, American Express was still able to mail an offer for a pre-approved credit card to Professor Boudreaux' 11-year-old son.

"And while his credit is pretty good with his mother and me, I'm very impressed that he's managed to establish his credit creds so firmly with a company that, if there's truth in today's told tale, has scant amounts money to lend."

Here in Canada, where we are told "Harpernomics" are leading us down the same 1929-esque road to ruin, my wife and I continue to receive offers in the mail for pre-approved credit cards from Capital One and Mastercard on a weekly basis. Phone calls from Capital One and others for a "Mr. or Mrs. Gal-stone" still come regularly.

Were the economy to really dry up entirely, easy credit would vanish in short order. Clearly, that has yet to happen. Since it was easy credit that led to the financial crisis in the first place, I would think that a severe market correction would ultimately be a good thing (and lighten my junk mail pile). Instead, Washington is working desperately this week to approve a plan to "rescue" the economy with more easy credit to improvident suckers--far more aggressively and forcefully than they have for the past several years.