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Container ships and me

I spent a week on Pender Island sitting on a nice little beach . It faces Boundary Pass through which all the freighter traffic to and from Vancouver Ports travels. I started thinking about the basics of our economy: heavily loaded bulk carriers head out to the Pacific. Container vessels carrying cheap crap come back. When I got home I posted some pictures to twitter.

Pointing out what's wrong with all those things made in China is really about us, not them. I keep buying so I can't blame them if they keep making. And does a beach chair matter anyway? In fact, I'm finally learning that even electronic devices don't matter individually; just their capabilities and their access to the net matter. I greatly admire Bruce Sterling's Last Viridian Note: Don't worry about using cheap junk but don't hoard it (I'm paraphrasing with great license). Most stuff is, let's face it, disposable and you should only keep it around when you need it. Concentrate on the stuff that counts. For Sterling it's shoes and a multitool. Sitting on the beach I did a bit of inventory and at that point in time, for me it was (some) clothes, a multitool and a Vaho bag (which is valuable more for its associations with an inspiring trip to Barcelona last year than for it's quality, but anyway).

Why do I look down at stuff made in China? It turns out to be a deeper question than you would imagine. The answer might start with thinking about the lousy jobs in lousy conditions and feeling that "I wouldn't do that job" . But maybe that's not true. I've never had to do that job and I probably never will but who knows. If I wasn't lucky enough to live here, what would I do to make a living? And all this cheap-junk-in-China-navel-gazing might seem a bit pointless anyway. There's probably no going back. There's lots of talk for years about whether we should worry about this . And it's all over the political spectrum and, unfortunately, it gets really xenophobic really fast and none of it is really all that helpful .

So, I don't presume that I can unravel this intractable, jumbled-up subject but I keep wondering about these questions : should we moderate consumption from China? Is it only to protect middle class jobs? In BC, what jobs are those? Processing natural resources? If we can't hang onto that, how else to protect our middle class? Can we do anything to keep the price of resources up? I know these are big questions and it seems that sometimes everybody is asking them and at other times no one wants to think about it. But a certain "everything is connected" vibe has hit me about this. As I was sitting on the beach watching the freighters go by, I was thinking about the discussions of SFU Community Conversations and  reading Manuel Castells' Networks of Outrage and Hope.  On a very simple level, I think there's two related themes: the Arab Spring is about the rise of an educated middle-class who are then given no opportunities. The Spanish and U.S. Occupy movements are about retrieving the lost opportunities of a struggling middle class.

Is this the real concern for us in BC: that we are always doing the things we've done before to generate wealth, and having the arguments we've had before about it, because "before" we had, and maybe still have, a wealthy middle-class? We can see that middle-class-dream dwindling away in other places, especially in industrial heartlands in Europe and North America and that is, let's face it, very close to home! Don't doubt, despite what Vancouver urbanites like to tell themselves, that the BC economy is still ruthlessly dependent on the value of our commodities and our strategic location for transportation. That's an important subtext, I think for the Community Conversations.

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