Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flip This Team: The Blue Jays in 2019

A bold predication: no one Jays opening day roster will necessarily be on the team after the All-Star game.  Clearly, the Jays won't have a full turnover for the entire team but -- with one or two possible exceptions depending on who is on the team on opening day  -- I think the Jays upper management (Atkins and Shapiro) are willing to at least listen to offers for just about anyone.  That might not, and I think will not, make some players happy but (again, with a possible exception or two), I think that the Jays front office projects a potentially different team in a few years. I'd also look for something on the order of 90+ losses and I don't think this concerns the front office either.

What this means is that the Jays will be a very active team. Expect a lot of changes as the year goes along. How so? Well, several things that I'd note in no particular order.

  1. I don't think Kevin Pillar is guaranteed a job. Pillar's value has been declining. He is a bit of a fan favour (although his homophobic comments might have been the beginning of the end for him in TO), but his offensive numbers have never been good and his defensive numbers have been declining. Each year we are treated to some sort of erudition about how "Kevin Pillar has found his swing." Each year, after a hot streak, it turns out to not be true. Pillar has value. I see him more as an NL fifth outfielder (and I think he would be really good in that role), but I am not at all certain that he will be with the Jays for much longer. His commitment to aggressiveness at the plate, for instance, seems misplaced noting the numbers it has brought him and seems out of step with the Jays new field level management. 
  2. Justin Smoak is a good player. Tellez might make the Jays out of Spring training as a back up, but Morales will likely occupy that spot along with his FT role as DH. Few AL teams carry a guy who just backs up 1B. Smoak is good both defensively and offensively. A team that has trouble at 1B and finds itself in the hunt might be looking for the kind of help he can bring and he is not expensive. He is exactly the kind of player that one might deal two mid-range prospects to acquire on a "if needed" basis. 
  3. Morales is in the last year of his contract so this is his last year as a Jay one way or the other. I'd look to either Tellez or Hernandez as the shorter-term DH solutions. Hernandez is not bad with the bat. He needs to take another step forward and he is one of the potential exceptions who could be with the Jays the entire year. But his defense is bad; he really cannot play the field. The Jays will look for some sort of deal for Morales and one might pop up among a contender that needs short-term support if he hits well at the start of the season. His career, however, is just about done one way or the other. 
  4. Stroman and Sanchez were once predicated as the core of rejuvenated pitching rotation. No longer. Sanchez has had two lost seasons and his agent's act (never popular with the Jays front office) has worn pretty thin. Boras (his agent) has tried to talk him up (but when your own agent is the only one talking you up ...)  and he is young enough that he could bounce back and pitch really well for several seasons. I think Shapiro and Atkins see this as enhanced trade value, as opposed to reason to keep him. The Jays have pitching prospects. As for Stroman, asking for an extension immediately after a horrible season is, well, an ask and you can ask for whatever you want, but having a minor fit on TV about it when not getting what he wanted did not endear him to the Jays. To be clear, one of the things the Jays wanted from Stroman was to exercise some veteran leadership. He's not a veteran but he's not a kid anymore and this failure to set a good example did not, I think, go over well (although Atkins will just keep smiling and never say for sure). There are teams that are interested in him and ... well ... the Jays have pitching prospects. 
  5. Luke Maile: he really can't hit but he's a good backup. He knows his role, is a team player, can make the odd offensive contribution, but is willing to come in late and play D. Some teams don't spend a lot of time on a good backup catcher and that is just fine ... until you need one ... and you need one more than you might think. Catcher is the one position on the field that really cannot be a day-in-day-out position. With the exception of a few players who are in the Hall of Fame, all catchers need rest. They can't play both ends of double headers (at least at catcher), often need one day per week off (a Sunday day game after a late Saturday game). Maile has played this role on the Jays for a couple of seasons: well last year; not well the year before, but he can play it and someone will likely need him as the season goes along. 
  6. Bullpen pitchers: are unpredictable. There are pitchers I like in the Jays pen, at least among the guys who will start the season (Giles, Tepera, Mayza, Biagini), but the unpredictability of a lot of bullpen pitchers means that making longer-term commitments to them is, well, something that most teams don't do. This is something that baseball will likely rethink as we start to see changes in the way in which bullpens are used (think Tampa Bay and the "opener"), but there is a good chance that none of these guys will be contributing to a Jays team that could contend in two or three years and so keeping them when they could bring some return seems like a no-brainer. Likewise, it will be difficult to keep all the potential bullpen arms the Jays have on their roster and so someone will be moving through waivers. What that means is that you might give them up for nothing and so trading and getting something back is a no-brainer. 
  7. Guys brought in to flip: there are a number of players on the roster who I think the Jays intend to flip just because of their age means that they are not long-term solutions to problems or pieces that will help the team contend when it becomes a contender. This includes Buckholz, Shoemaker, Axford in the pen, and Richard. These guys are being called "veteran depth" and I think no firm decision has been made about them one way or the other (are they on the team or not?). The Jays got a fair amount out of flipping some veteran pieces that were brought in at a low cost last year so they have repeated the act this year, picking up pieces no one else wanted. None of these players are going to command a Grade A prospect, but the Jays are not looking for a Grade A prospect for them (they would take one if they could get one but they already have those). What they are looking for is more mid-range prospects who they can sort through and see if they have either role players or a late developer. If these guys don't work out ... well ... not much has been lost. They are all on low salary one year contracts. 

Overall, then, you can expect a lot of movement in terms of the Jays roster. I've not listed everyone who could be on the block because that includes virtually the entire team. I think Jansen is not on the block. He's one of their top prospects and a potential catcher of the future. The core of young players (Vlad Jr, Bichette, Biggio, Alford and their younger pitchers like Reid-Foley, Barouki, Pannonne) are all not up to be traded because these guys are the guys who are going to be playing game in and game out in September and next year. The Jays, however, are two years away from being in the playoff hunt (or, likely two years away) so the question is not who is the best player who should be on the field but who are going to be the players who are going to be on the field in two of three years time. I can see a rotation that includes Nate Pearson, Reid-Foley, Barouki but not Stroman or Sanchez.  Smoak's greatest value for the Jays (and I like him) is the prospects he can bring back. 

With whom will the Jays trade? It is too early to tell, because that will depend on team needs and who is in contention at the All-Star break. It will not be a winning season but the Jays should be an exciting team. And, they should be even more exciting to watch after the break when we start to see who has made the cut (does McKinney have role on the team, will Grichuk end up in centre, is Tellez or Hernandez the DH of the future) and how the young core (who we will see this year for sure) is coming along. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

What is an emergency? Donald Trump and the Border Wall

So ... Donald Trump has declared an emergency so he can fund his promised border wall. You can find coverage from CBC here.  I suspect that this will become another cause célèbre and another point of conflict between Republicans and Democrats. This might even be its intention. The way in which politics is "done" in the US is changing and has already changed in appreciable degrees. The idea of using emergency funding for public policy initiative is, however, another matter and something that deserves some discussion because it raises important issues:

  • What is an emergency
  • When does an emergency exist
  • What are the implications of using emergency powers for public policy initiatives

The first question is both the easiest and most difficult to answer.  I am not going to claim to be an expert on American law regarding emergencies but a number of emergencies are "declared" every year and that is what makes them emergencies. Authorities in civil society -- an executive (a governor, president, major, etc.) -- declared an "emergency", in effect says that one exists and, ipso facto, it exists. 

I am sure it is more complicated than this but you can see the general point. A declaration of emergency relies on the discretion of the executive authority (say, a president or a governor). Declaring an emergency allows on to access special money that can be set aside, as it were, for emergencies, to address a significant, immediate, and unforeseen problem. When we think of emergencies, we often think of natural disasters because these would the ones that we see most often on the news: hurricanes, wildfires, floods. When this occurs, there are a lot of people (sometimes millions) who are in immediate need who would have not been in need the day before. Infrastructure has been destroyed, first responders (of various sorts have been stretched to the limits), the private sector (say, insurance companies) may not be able to cope with the scale and scope of the problem. Said differently, one of the characteristics of an emergency is not that it is a problem but that it is a problem that pops up and threatens infrastructure, life, health, etc.

What we see with Trump's announcement is a shift in the definition of "emergency" from the above to "things we don't like." I want to be clear on this issue. I am not saying that non-emergency situations are not important don't have significant, indeed potentially life-threatening, implications.  For instance, the failure of effective gun control is a life-threatening situation. The failure of effective health care is a life threatening situation. To the families involved they are emergencies but neither the US (nor Canada) declares a national emergency to deal with them. Why? It is not that they are unimportant. They clearly are. But, they are not a surprise; they have not just popped up. 

Illegal immigration to the US is something similar. While significant claims will be made about is effects, the truth of the matter is that the situation in the US is no different today than it was yesterday. In fact, according to the Trump administration, it is even better than it was. What we have, then, is a situation where an emergency is being declared not to address an emergency (which by the general understanding of the term does not exist -- again, the situation is no different today than yesterday), but to address an on-going matter of public policy.

I want to be clear about the point I am making. I am not -- and note this -- stating that that illegal immigration is a problem; nor am I stating that it is not a problem. I am simply trying to determine what constitutes an emergency.   Again, I want to point out, I am not trying to say that the difference between and emergency and not an emergency is importance or harm or seriousness or level of concern. These would, in my view, in fact, be non-starters for discussion because they are so amenable to subjective assessments.  What is a serious issue can differ from person to person. I think health care is particularly important, or the environment; I have friends who simply don't. I would avoid the entire debate because one really does not want to base something as important as an executive declaration on the legitimacy of a subjective assessment. 

Why? This is where I think the Trump government -- and Republicans in general -- might be opening a can of worms that they don't want to open. I have no doubt, of course, that Republicans think that illegal immigration to the US is a problem of the highest importance.  But do they really want to set that precedent? The simple fact that I, or you, or someone else, believes that an emergency exists does not make it an emergency. I might think it is an emergency because I view the issue as particularly important but, to be clear, I am not master of the universe. 

Yet, if we establish this principle: if a president feels an issues is important and cannot get funding from Congress, he or she can simply declare an emergency and ... poof ... an emergency exists and they get money to address their concern. Said differently, what happens when there is a Democratic president. What if they feel that gun violence is a national emergency or the lack of proper water conservation measures in some parts of America, or the lack of proper health care for the poor, or the border wall ... imagine that they want it torn down. 

You see my point. An emergency requires some criteria and that criteria must be something other than "it is important." Without it, there is no check on executive power and this is, if I were an American, what would be for me a big concern. What the current administration is not understanding is that the US governmental system, with its division of powers, is actually functioning precisely the way it was supposed to function. Presidents were not supposed to have independent spending authority. Money was supposed to used by government only with the the consent of the people -- no taxation without representation -- which was one of the philosophical basis of the US Revolution (or, the American War as the British called it), the rebellion of the colonies and the creation of a new system of government. 

What this declaration does is to throw that model out and use emergency powers to circumvent the limits on executive authority that the founders of the US established. Now, to be sure, today is not yesterday much less the 18th century and limits on executive authority have been waning for some time. This  use of emergency powers and the precedent it sets creates a brand now and dramatic extension of that authority. The compromise and negotiations that the founders of the US (whatever their flaws) sound to embed as the key to a republican government that avoided tyranny have been circumvented. And, it would not have mattered who was in government or what the issue was. 

This is, in other words, a really important declaration that will have long lasting implications. Trump is about to spend money he could not get through design and he is about to do so in a way that runs counter to the intentions of those people who created the US. I suspect that his supporters are so convinced he is right that they do not see the problem nor do they see very far ahead. They may, in fact, be establishing a principle that will challenge their own conceptions of what is America and that challenge may come sooner rather than later. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Did Anything Good Come of Residential Schools .... Absolutely Not!

The idea that residential schools were "not all bad" is floated now and then. I honestly don't know why. Well ... OK, I think I *do* know why, but the key point here is that this is an argument that should be -- perhaps even needs to be -- addressed because it is, periodically, made the guise of careful historical treatment of this subject. I recently listened to a well known (and very good) historian discuss the need for "balance" in the treatment of residential schools and suggest that they might not have been "all bad." Students, for instance, I heard one person note learnt skills ... like the English language. While another person claimed that there were some nice people teaching in the schools.

Both of these points are, of course, completely beside the point and, in fact, are shockingly ahistorical in their analysis. And, this leads me to another point: another idea I have heard is that it is not historians' job, as it were, to pass moral judgements on the past. Instead, they seek balance in interpretation and let others develop their own views. On a general level, there is something important in this contention. If, however, balance comes at a distortion of the past -- if our effort to arrive at "balance" leads to misrepresent what went on in the past in order to avoid being called "moralistic" -- then, I think, as historians we have failed because, in my view, there is some idea of accuracy to which one should aspire. Let's address these intertwined issues by looking at residential schools.

Before doing so, however, one needs to acknowledge the tragedy that occurred and is still occuring as a result of residential schools. The level of violence mobilized against children in these institutions is staggering and this has been, of course, amply documented.  I don't want to get ahead of myself, but if anyone reading this thinks that the term "violence" is somehow morally charged ... well ... then ... you have not been doing your homework and have never taken the time to investigate residential schools.  I'll pick just one example: the use of children in medical experiments has amply documented. If this does not pass a means test on violence ... well, then, I am not certain what will. Let's come back to that because it is important. Here is the key point: we are not talking about strict discipline. Indeed, if strict discipline were on the only problem, I don't think we would be having this discussion. Instead, we are talking about systemic abuse, medical experimentation, death from disease, murder, and astronomical levels of sexual assault.

The points often made in favour of residential schools -- that they helped children learn things like the English language -- are misnomers.  The argument is logically and ethically flawed from the beginning. It is also deeply historically problematic. How so? Let us assume for a second (for the sake of argument only) that this is true and that children learnt English in residential schools and this was good for them. Does it them follow that because something good occurred in a residential school that this somehow negates -- balances out, in the language of the learned scholar to whom I listened  -- the bad? If a child abuser teaches a child English, to put this in more graphic but also historically accurate terms, does this somehow lessen the effect or impact of the child abuse?

A good way of assessing this situation would be to shift the focus from residential schools to another institution, let's say the public schools. If we made this argument about non-Indigenous schooling, would anyone accept it? If we had schools where non-Indigenous children were systematically abused but also taught, say, math and English, would anyone way that this balances things out?  Would any parent say "gee, sure, send my kind to school with this child abuser because they will also learn English." Would you send your children there?

The very idea is, in fact, laughable if it were not also horrifying and so ... why would anyone make it for Indigenous youth? I am serious in asking that question: if we would shrink from asking the question -- if we would, in fact, consider it horrific if asked about non-Indigenous youth in the public schools (would you say it was OK for someone to abuse your child if they also taught them, say, math?) -- what would possess anyone to think that it is a legitimate way to assess residential schooling for Indigenous youth? The only difference between (right) horrific rejection of the idea (sending children to school with child abusers because the learning of English balances abuse) is the colour of the children's skin. And, if that is the only difference ... one needs to ask some deep and probing questions about anyone who would make this argument.

Let's take this argument one step further. Not all children were abused, some say. OK, that is I am sure true. Does that balance things out? The ethics behind this proposition are equally shaking and equally scaring. Let me use an example to illustrate my point. There are two children. We will call them Child 1 and Child 2.  Child 1 is abused in school. Child 2 is not, but learns English. Does the fact that Child 2 was not abused somehow balance against the fact that Child 1 was? Certainly not for Child 1.

Again, let us flip it around and ask the question of non-Indigenous youth. Would it be OK for your child to be abused -- would that somehow balance things out -- if your neighbour's child were not? Would you say "yes, that school is doing its job and it is a good place to send my child."

This is, in fact, a long-standing ethical issue raised by thinkers such as Voltaire in his famous novel Candide. Is it OK to abuse one person so that others might gain? Is it OK to be unjust to one person so that another may benefit? If, right now, you find yourself saying yes ... are you willing to be the one abused? Are you willing to be the one treated unjustly? Assaulted? Killed? Subjected to medical experiments? I find people who make this argument -- the argument Voltaire is rejecting in Candide -- often imagine that they will *not* be the one abused and are willing to suffer another's abuse for their benefit. But, if the issue is flipped -- are you willing to be abused and have it called OK for someone else's benefit -- they start to prevaricate pretty darned quick.

As an ethical proposition, the logic is actually garbage. It is entertained sometimes in intro Philosophy courses as a way to teaching people to think about others, to empathize, to use different ways (say, small-l liberal theories of justice) to build courses of action that are far more ethically sound, but that, of course, is not really even my point. My point is that those who argue that there is a need to see balance in the history of residential schools are, in fact, making exactly this argument -- that is OK to abuse one child if another benefits -- but I suspect they don't even know that they are making that argument and would, in fact, recoil in horror and disclaim the point if they were confronted by it. Yet ... yet ... that is precisely the claim they have made in their quest for "balance" and explanation that some good things happened.

Two final points: the idea that some good happens often misses what is, in fact, the key historical question -- the key question historians ask -- and this is particularly odd when historians argue for balance (because they are ditching their own methodology). Why did we have residential schools? Was it to teach English? Was there no other way to teach English and, if there was, why was it not taken? There were, in fact, other educational systems but we need to ask the point with regard to residential schools to understand the reason why they were created in the first place. They were created to assimilate the Indigenous population. Learning English was part of that but that was a means to an end; not the end itself.  The issue, then, is not "should Indigenous kids get an education?" but should they have subjected to forced assimilation?

Lest someone accuse me of being moralistic, let me point out that it is only by asking this question -- why did we have these schools verse some other method of teaching Native kids -- that we can come to the heart of their purpose. That is: I am attempting to accurately understand why these schools were set up in the first place; not to moralize about their potentially positive affect. I am attempting to deal with the real of fact; not the realm of what I, as a white guy living in 2018, happen to think is good or bad; negative or ameliorative. In other words, I am attempting to understand these institutions on their own terms by understanding their self-proclaimed purpose. One might take moral lessons from that, but to me it is good history.

Finally, what about the argument: there were some good people who worked in residential schools? The historian's answer to this question is: so what? I am sure there were good slave holders and even nice Nazis who went home and kissed their kids and bought their parents presents on their birthdays. That is not the issue. The fact that someone kissed their kids does not somehow balance out mass murder, it does not mediate it, it does not excuse it, it does not introduce any level of "balance" to it. The issue for historians is how institutions function and how to we develop normative standards of niceness as a society. After all, nice is not an absolute term. What I think is nice, another person does not. The issue, then, is not "were their nice people" but what did it mean for Settler society to be nice to Native kids? It turns out, that it meant a whole bunch of things that they would not have defined as nice of they had been subjected to them.

Do historians have moral responsibilities? That is a question for another day and a discussion I would like to open up. I am, however, not dealing with it in this post. Instead, I am asking a different type of question: are historians being moralistic in developing critical perspectives on residential schools and is that a violation of historical methods and practice. My point is that the opposite is true. Anyone who would argue that some sort of good things that happened in residential schools -- allowing this only for the sake of argument -- balance the bad is simply in violation of good historical practice. They develop argument that simply cannot be accepted by anyone who actually cares about accurate history and arguments that we would not make for other groups of people (or, their children).

Our task as historians is to look at these institutions, their objectives, how they functions and their effects. If one wants to avoid moralism in your assessment of them, go ahead. Doing so will not lead to an assessment that there were positive things in residential schools because good and sound historical analysis will necessarily reject this point because it is ideological and not historical. And, in my view at least, it is an ideology I think has little place in history.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bryce Harper's Free Agency: Legacy and Decision Making in Baseball

Update: Since I wrote my last blog, the Jays management have  "released" Tulo, a move that is consistent with the argument I was making. You can find information here.

In my last blog, I tried to argue that the signing of Bryce Harper -- whomever signs him -- tells us more about baseball than about Harper. Making decisions if one runs a baseball team is not an easy business and no one would contend it is. That is why the people who make those decisions are paid a lot of money, or one of the reasons, and I have very little time for people who complain about how difficult their job is ... if they have a job most of us would do for a lot less! Yes, baseball is hard but ... it is baseball. You get to watch the game, talk about the game, analyze the game ... and get paid for it. I'd take that job.

What we need to bear in mind, however, is that not all baseball decisions are made for the same reasons. Someone will sign Bryce Harper for a lot of money and that is something I would not do. The truth is that most GMs won't either.  A few will enter into negotiations, kick the tires, as it were, and a smaller number will be serious but only a few teams when it comes right down to it will decide that Harper is their man. Most -- the vast majority -- will drop out because of the costs, because of concerns the team might have about him, because their plan for team development lies elsewhere. Much of the speculation this time of the year in baseball journalism is about who will do more than kick the tires.

I tried to argue that there are a lot of reasons why I would not sign him and I want to pick up this line of reasoning in this blog. This does not mean that he is not a good ball player. It just means that he is not the best player in MLB and I think the cost might outweigh the benefits. How so?

Let's start with how good Harper is. He's good. He does more than pass the eyeball test.  He will be 26 next season -- still not in his prime -- and already has an MVP, Rookie of the Year, and 6 all-star selections. I don't mean to make light of those because they are significant accomplishments. I am not looking to explain them away because I don't think they can or should be explained away. Over 7 years in baseball he has a .900 OPS (an overall measure of offensive ability), which is indeed well in the all-star range. So, what is the downside. Let's look at the record:
  1. Like Troy Tulowitzki (the example I used in my previous blog), he has had injury issues. They are no where near as grave as Tulo's but he missed time in 2013, 2014 and 2017.  Injury histories worry me, particularly if one is going to be asked to sign a long-term deal because the issue is not health next year or the year after but a number of years down the road. 
  2. Harper's numbers are good but they are not as good as his reputation might suggest. He has, for instance, topped the mythical 100 RBI line once and that only in his contract year (another thing I worry about is players who put up higher than average numbers in the year before they become free agents. Harper did not really do this except in the RBI category). He's topped the 100 runs scored number twice. He's in the 90s on both RBI and runs scored on other occasions but these numbers are more in the way of very good than spectacular. 
  3. When we drill deeper, we find other issues. For instance, Harper's WAR (wins above replacement, a way of measuring the number of wins an individual player contributes to their team versus a replacement level player, or how much better a player is than their average competition), was great in his MVP year. At 10.0 this meant that by himself Harper contributed 10 extra wins to his team versus what a replacement level player would have contributed. This is spectacular and it won Harper and MVP, as it should have. Before and after he won this award, however, his WAR has been not nearly as good. Injuries played a role in these numbers but his pre-MVP year WAR was 1.1 and his post-MVP WAR numbers were: 1.5, 4.7 (very good), 1.3.  Last year his defensive WAR (a measure of how much he contributed on defense to his team) was -3.4. Two years ago it was 0.0; the year before that -0.9. What this means is that last year Harper contributed a total 1.5 wins to his team (v a replacement level player) but his defense actually cost nearly three-and-one-half wins. His offense was really good but his defense was really bad, making his overall value mediocre.  

These numbers are not horrible, by any stretch ... well, the defensive WAR last year was bad. Neither, however, are they best player in the game type of numbers. Harper was not, for instance, in the top 10 in WAR in the National League last year, nor the year before that. In fact, he has been in the top 10 in the National League in WAR only one time in the last five years (his MVP year).  These numbers, in fact, compare unfavourably to the other players with whom one might compare Harper. Harper's total WAR for his team since his career started is 27.4. This is more than good. But Mike Trout's is 64.3. Trout is older than Harper by a year and a half (give or take) but that does not explain a difference this wide. It is about the same as Christian Yelich (26.4), about the same per year as Freddie Freeman, lower than but in the same ball park as Nolan Arenado. It is not as good as Mookie Betts, and I could go on but my point I think is made. Harper is a good baseball player but he's not an outstanding baseball -- so far at least -- like Trout and he's behind Betts both offensively and defensively.

What this amounts to involves me telling another story: a number of years ago the Nationals (Harper's team until he signs with someone else) signed Jayson Werth to a seven year contract, worth north of 120$ million. It was a huge contract for the time and my bet is that the Nationals knew they were overpaying. Werth was a pretty good player. Not as good as Harper but his record was good. His defensive metrics were, shaky, despite his reputation as a good defensive outfielder but he also did a fair number of things well. In addition to what now seems like an undeserved defensive reputation, he was a good base runner, he hit for power and scored runs (46 doubles, and ... 27 perhaps HR the year before he was signed by the Nats). He had, the year before he was signed, a .921 OPS, higher than Harper's this past year. The difference was that Harper is 26 and Werth was 31. At 31, the career of most baseball players is starting to -- or, going to start to -- decline. Injuries start to occur, and one naturally slows down. 

Werth did not have a horrible career with the Nats. His first year with them (2011) was bad, but his next three seasons were good, with +.800 OPS in all three. His time with the Nats was injury plagued, but that is what one would expect. From 2015-17 his career was in decline and ended in 2017 at the age of 38, You can check out his numbers at baseball-reference.com -- where I get my numbers -- but his career was not bad.  He is not going to be on anyone's Hall of Fame ballot, but it is not a bad career. Indeed, if the Nats had not elected to seriously overpay him at the age of 31, most people would have concluded that his career was really quite good. Many people think it is not because he never could do the job that he was paid a lot of money to do: win. The Nats were perpetual contenders, to be sure, but never got over the hump to win the World Series. 

The lesson is this: if I were going to build a team I'd look at Harper only if a specific number of conditions were met. For instance, my team would need to be good already. Harper would need to be the missing piece. I'd need everyone to understand that in the longer run, we were probably about to overpay. And, we'd need a clear understanding of Harper's weaknesses as well as his strengths. And, I'd need to be sure that the money I was about to spend could not be better spent elsewhere. For instance, I was watching a Winter Meetings update on TSN and there are something like a ba-zillion good bullpen arms. Would I want one or several of those? Would I want to devote money to player development (I am sure most teams would prefer a Vald, Jr. or Bo Bichette)? Would Harper be willing to work on his weaknesses? Would he work on his defense, for instance, so it does not become a serious liability (it is at the point of becoming that if it does not change)?

Harper leaves the Nats (if he leaves the Nats) with a mixed legacy. Like Werth he never succeeded in what fans see as the main goal: winning. We are not, of course, simply talking about a winning season. After all, as Tampa Bay and Oakland have demonstrated, you don't need to pay someone 400$ million to have a winning season. He leaves (if he leaves) as a remarkably talented player but not so far as a generational player. He's not Mike Trout and I don't think he's Mookie Betts either. Statistically, as I said in the previous blog, he has not even been the best player on his own team. I like him and I'd love to have him on my team but his legacy suggests that his price is going to be too high.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bryce Harper's Legacy .... Or, what this tells us about baseball

As the baseball winter meetings start, fans and journalists in various baseball cities reflect on their teams, their needs, and -- in what has become annual fare -- where high priced free agents will go. I should begin by saying that I have nothing against free agency. It is clearly better than what preceded it. I agree, however, with the premises of Moneyball: most of the people who make decisions about large salaries in baseball are guided by things other than an assessment of the overall talent on their teams. Or, said differently, they are not always good at assessing talent. The result is that they often make bad decisions. How much one someone will pay Bryce Harper might end up being one of those bad decisions. I was reminded of this decision recently after reading Jesse Dougherty's column on Harper's legacy in the Washington Post. If you haven't read it (and you might because it is well written and managed to find its way via syndication into one of the local papers in south-east New Brunswick, which is pretty far from Washington), let me recap. Harper will likely leave Washington but the Nationals owe him a significant debt. He made the team better, put it on the map, established it as a major league team (as it were) and became the "face of the franchise."

These are all subjective points and I would rather have had Harper on my roster than not have had him. There is no doubt that he is -- and will continue to be -- an appreciable talent. He might even become a Hall of Fame player, noting that he is still young for a regular and his best days likely lie ahead of him. But ... and this is a big but ... I wonder ...? I don't think Harper should be the first 400$ million player. Someone will pay him a lot of money but, if I were making baseball decisions (and, there is a reason I am not), I'd likely not pull the trigger on Harper. I'd take a pass. There is a lot of talent here; a real lot. But, Harper has -- quite simply -- not been one of the best players in baseball over the course of his career to date (acknowledging again that he is still young). In fact, he has not even been the best player on his team over the last five years. Is he the most talented ...?  Sure, I'd say that is likely true. Has he been the best on the Nationals? The evidence we have simply does not bear that out.

How so?  And, what do I mean by bad decisions?   Let's use Harper's impending pay day -- and a potentially comparable case from the Blue Jays -- to think a bit about baseball. Let's start with the last question first. Bad decisions are actually more difficult to determine because we don't necessarily know the reason why people made the decisions that they made. Every fan in baseball -- me included -- talks all the time about bad decisions because they think they know what they are talking about, but they are really making assumptions. A bad decision must actually be determined within the framework of its own criteria. Fans and many commentators assume that the goal of a baseball team is to win because that is their goal: they want to see their team win. And, if that were simply the case, then, well, one would go out and get the best (and, we can have a debate about that word too!) players around, sign them to your team, and Bob's your uncle ... off you go.

But, the situation is more complicated than that. Baseball teams are business and they also want to make money. You can be as competitive as you want but if you lose money ... well ... that will affect the decisions you make in terms of your players.  Because baseball is a business, it is also about making money and that complicates decisions. How so? Well, you might want to sign the best player but what if that player wants a heck of a lot of money (say, something north of 300$ million, like Harper reportedly wants)?  And, what if he wants a multi-year contract whereby you are going to be paying him, say, 30$ or 40$ million per year for many is the year? The Jays have a couple of those players on their roster right now. Tulo, for instance. Troy Tulowitzki was, when the Jays acquired him (via trade; not free agency), a very good baseball player. His numbers were inflated because he played in Colorado but he was a five time all-star, a two-time Gold Glove winner, and regularly discussed -- even while he did not win -- as an MVP candidate.  There were warning signs, too, he had a huge -- I mean huge!! -- salary and he had injury problems (he'd missed s significant time in 2008, 2012, and 2014 and some time in 2010) and he was not getting any younger so injuries were bound to become more important.  He was also 30 years old, young in human terms but mid-career+ for a baseball player.

But, the Jays wanted to win, had a problem at shortstop (particularly with defence) so they were willing to spend the money and bring in Tulo, who did indeed help them out. However, there are a couple of further points to this calculation.

1. If the goal of the Jays in bringing in Tulo was to win ... that goal was not accomplished.  One can argue that the Jays were good and that they made the playoffs and "had a good run" but that is not the same as meeting one's goal. Think about it differently: imagine your goal is to cook a pot roast. You put the roast on but your oven goes and the roast remains uncooked. It can still be a nice looking roast but you can't eat it.
2. However much Tulo helped the Jays in 2015 make the playoffs by soliding up their D, he cost them a lot of money to do so. So much, in fact, that it has become a drag on their resources for years thereafter.

I am not shooting Tulo down. I like him as a player and have for years.  The value of that playoff run, however, if gauged just in terms of Tulo's salary alone is high and getting higher. The Jays paid him 20$ million last year, the same the year before, the same the year before and a hunk the year before that. They will pay him 20$ this year coming, 14$ million in 2020, and either 15$ million or a 4$ million buyout (and, I think it safe to say that it will by then be the buyout) in 2021. My numbers are a bit low but, said differently, the Jays will have laid out close to 100$ million for Tulo by the time things are said and done, unless he retires.

Why mention all this and how does it relate to Harper? It illustrates, in my view, a bad decision. What makes the decision bad is not the money, which does strike me as a serious drag on the Jays resources, but the fact that this money did not do what it was supposed to: win.

Moreover, Tulo's injuries have continued. He played 41 games when they first brought him in, in 2015. His defence was good but his offence wasn't, with an OPS (a measure of total offensive ability) below .700 ... that is, at a point where you start to think about replacing the player.  He was better offensively in 2016 but missed 30 games; his 2017 numbers were not good and he missed nearly 100 games as a result of injury. He did not play at all in 2018. So, so far, the Jays have gotten good defence out of Tulo when he has played and average offence. He has played a total of 238 games over more than three seasons or a total of 1.4 seasons out of, say, the slightly less than the 3.5 he could have played. And, this has cost the jays north of 60$ million so far with another almost 40$ million still on the books. 

I think I have made my point.  It is, of course, not that Tulo is a bad guy (indeed, judging from interviews -- not always the best source -- he sounds pretty reasonable and team oriented), nor that he is not talented. The issue is that those people who made the decision to bring him in did so for specific reasons (I'll get more into those in some future blog) and those reasons were not met and the price was high. You could live with the high price if you met the goals (and the price is even higher, of course, because the Jays also had to pay people to play Tulo's position when he was not), but if you don't .... ?

This is the kind of calculation I make when I think about the value of Bryce Harper.  Harper is an amazingly talented player who will command a high salary. By trying to sign him, one in fact ups his salary by creating a bidding war. He is also a player with a history of injuries, questions about his leadership ability and effort, and, from what we can tell, weak defence.  I'd prefer to have him on my team, but am I willing to pay him a whole bunch of money to be on my team and not play two or three or four years down the road since he will want a very long term contract? Am I willing to put 400$ million down to find out?

The fact that someone in baseball will, tells us a lot about baseball. In fact, it tells us much more about baseball than it tells us about Harper.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Beyond Our Means: Student Debt as a Cultural Sign

In my last post, I tried to explain a series of things about debt and how it functions.  The key points are there and you can refer back to them rather than reading a summary. What I sought to point out is that debt is an odd thing. By going into debt, we end up paying significantly more for a product, say, that we want then the advertised price. Moreover, debt, on a certain level, becomes a serious problem. Defaults can and do occur and these become like dominoes. If I can't pay my bills, the people who are employed by my creditors might start to lose their jobs, etc.

In reality this is a lot more complicated but this basis understanding allows us to look at other, more important and, for me, historically interesting things. Let me begin by saying that debt is a serious problem for a lot of people. You have probably read the stats yourself and so you know that the poorest Canadians are actually getting poorer. What does that mean? It means that the poorest Canadians are going backwards. Far from simply making less money than other Canadians (and so the relative gap between classes widens), they appear to be actually losing money (I got my info from the Broadbent Institute). Debt, IOW, can and does occur for a range of reasons and some of those reasons are simply outside of the control of some people. Stereotypes to one side, losing one's job when the factory closes down, say, is a good way to get into debt fast.

What about saving for a rainy day? The news story I cited in my last post suggests that Canadians are not very good at that and, frankly, that is part of the story I want to tell. Why is that? It is because debt has been naturalized as a good and normal thing. Years ago, a relative who was carrying a lot of debt went to the bank. I was disturbed by their debt services payments (the minimum they had to pay and told them so. IOW, I argued that they were carrying too much debt). Their banker said the opposite: not at all; most people have this much debt. Six months later, the bank refused an application for more credit and ... my relative's business went under.

I don't think the banker was lying. I don't think the debt level was unusual. But I think it is problematic. The naturalization of debt that has occurred in Canada is the product of a series of historical developments. These include:

  • The democratization of credit (it is no longer for the upper class)
  • The development of a set of national institution that manage debt (including, as we saw in 2007-8, the stock market, insurance companies, banks, credit card companies, etc.) 
  • Encouragement by the government 
  • A shift in cultural values

It is these last two points I want to talk about. How has the state encouraged debt? Consider a common element of debt: the student loan, as an example. We all know that education is good. (That, at least is the burden of another series of blogs I am writing and a book I am considering writing.) But, how do we finance education? The range of people we need to make education work has expanded dramatically and they don't work for free. We need not only teachers but janitors, people to fix facilities when roofs leak, repair computers, process book purchases (or, more often database and aggregator purchases) for libraries, people to run experiential learning programs, councillors, heck even people to tune musical instruments. 

I don't debate the usefulness of these people. In fact, I think they are good and I see no point in looking back on the "old days" when we did not need, say, councillors. Those were not necessarily good old days and simply closing one's eyes to the mental health issues does not make them go away. Likewise, students are looking for experiential learning opportunities because they cannot get what they feel are labour market ready skills in other ways. Said differently, they want to work and want their education to help them get jobs. I think both are great. I am glad students want to work and I think that education does and should help equip people for the workforce. 

Yet, the finance issue does not go away simply by stating that this is a good idea. We finance public education through taxes but what about higher education? That is financed through a combination of taxes and direct student (or the families of students) payments. It is one way, but not the only way, to finance higher education. Other countries, in fact, finance higher education in a range of different ways that limit the degree to which students (or, their families) pay out of pocket. As tuition rates have gone up, summer jobs and the like no longer cover most tuition and students (or, their families) have turned to loans to cover the difference, which was the concern of my friend (see last blog) that got me started thinking about debt. 

There are a myriad of ways to think about student debt, all of which can have some importance. We can think of the percent of students who leave higher education with debt. We can think about the way debt accumulates the longer one is in school. We can think about the ability of people who complete higher education to pay back student loans. We can look at who holds that debt (are they government sponsored student loans, loans from banks, money owed friends or family members?). 

Current data from Stats Canada, which you can find here suggests that students leave higher education with appreciable debt. Here is a graph from Stats Canada that illustrates this. 

There are not a lot of surprises here. College students accrue less debt, BA students have less debt than those in doctors degrees. And, average debt is appreciable. 

Debt causes all kinds of problems, as my friend has said on his FB post. For instance, those just entering the labour market often have little ability to pay back their loans but, after a brief waiting period, have seriously high payments. Those payments can be the source of mental anguish. That I do not doubt, but they are also the source of other problems. For instance, they limit the ability of new workers to make significant purchases ... unless they can get further loans ... which has implications for the economy overall.   

They also create -- or, rather, perpetuate -- inequality. After all, the wealthy don't need student loans and so enter the labour market in a much better economic position than those who have students loans even if they have the exact same qualifications. One will begin to accumulate capital, say; the other will not and no amount of "saving for a rainy day" can disguise the brute facts of math. 

I use this example to illustrate how student debt can hamper one of the very things it was supposed to facilitate: equality of opportunity. 

If these things are true -- if other countries finance post-secondary education in different ways; if debt can subvert the very aims of what it was supposed to facilitate; if it can hamper the economy -- why do we have it? 

Well, the first reason is that no one said that the economy made sense or that it was a cohesive whole. Indeed, almost by definition a capitalist economy is neither cohesive nor does it make sense. I wrote a whole series of blogs (Myths of Capitalism) to illustrate this.  We should not, in other words, be surprised that one part of the economy is intended to facilitate one aim (say, social mobility; equality of opportunity through education) and another part (or, even the same part) subverts that aim.  

But, there is a more significant reason. Think about what student loans do: they are a way of financing post-secondary education.  That might sound odd.  After all, most people don't think of student loans in that way. But, think about what they do: they are a specific form of debt designed to pay for -- aka finance -- post-secondary education. Moreover, the amount of money that they move into post-secondary education is appreciable if Stats Canada data is correct. If that data is correct and the average, say, college student takes out an average of, say, $7 000/yr in debt to pay rent and tuition, etc., that is a fair piece of money being put into the economy and into tuition. It finances, in fact, students who otherwise would not be able to attend college for want or resources (under the current system). Thus, while I know student loans pay for more than just tuition; the fact is that without them we'd have far fewer college students -- or, university students -- than we now have. I have not done the math, but I'd guess that students loans are nearly essential for the economic well-being of colleges and universities. That is: without them, there would be so many fewer students that the economic stability of higher education would be threatened. 

We do not often add this up, but it is something to think about. The economic stability of our post-secondary system seems to rely on student loans. 

Student loans are, then, a way of having students finance post-secondary education and that is, in fact, their purpose.  And, because these are loans, they are paid back with interest. There may be a break on a rate or some other allowances that make the loan more palatable, but ultimately, there is an interest rate and so that means that simply by getting a student loan to pay tuition, a student is paying more than the sticker price. As I pointed out in the previous blog, debt services charges (interest) mean that you pay more -- in some cases a lot more -- than the price of the item you are buying if you go in debt (via a loan or whatever) to make that purchase. Thus, tuition has increased for sure over the last generation but by getting loans -- made necessary by these vary increases in tuition -- students are actually paying more than the cost of tuition for their education. 

This much is simple loan math and put in those terms it does not sound particularly good. In my view, it shouldn't. In effect, the state is suggesting, through student loan policy, not only that students should finance higher education but that they should pay more than the advertised price to do so. But that still does not explain is why we have student loans. In fact, it turns it into a bit of a question. What makes it even more interesting is that the state often portrays liberal student loan policies as progressive measures. If tuition goes up, someone will say, yes tuition is going up but we will counter that with bursaries and easier access to loans. Looked at in this light, easier access to loans does not look very progressive. It is a way for students to get an education that they would otherwise be denied. 

Except: why should they be denied it in the first place? We have student loans in preference to other forms of financing, because student loans are consistent with the general tenor of capitalism and individualism and the prevent the growth of taxes. Said differently, they keep a significant burden of financing post-secondary education on students themselves ... on the individual. We have them because the state does not want to increase taxes and spend the extra tax money on higher education. And, these loans seem natural and necessary. 

This also tells us something about saving for a rainy day. Student loans go often go to individuals -- students -- who have had no chance to save for a rainy day because they have not worked or at least not much. Student loans ensure that young people begin their adult lives in debt. 

I am picking on student loans not because I think they are a particular evil. But, because I think they highlight some of the general problems with debt. Think about what they do: 

  • Seem progressive when they are not
  • Ensure that students pay more for education than the advertised price because they have to cover interest charges
  • Keep the burden of financing on students themselves (something that is more and more true over the last generation)
  • Do little to enhance equal opportunity or social mobility and may, in fact, work against it
  • Disguise the fact that we have options and choice with regard to educational financing 
  • Ensure that individuals begin their adult lives in debt 

In short, student loans, as a particular form of debt, illustrate some of the odd cultural and economic dynamics of debt. As a sign of the time, they illustrate the odd and contradictory nature of our culture which mistakes self-financing for state involvement, regressive measures for progressive measures, and promotes economic instability in the name of promoting equality of opportunity. In short, as a sign of the times, student loans seem to me to be near perfect ... I just don't like the directions in which those signs are pointing. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Beyond Our Means: Debt as a Cultural Sign

The CBC recently reported that Canadians have a debt problem.  You can find the story here. This is not news. In one way or another key financial institutions (central banks, economists, chartered banks) have been warning of debt issues for some time. There is a certain measure of hypocrisy to these warnings: the very institutions that, in one way or another, create debt or make their money from it, on the one hand, seem to warning about it, on the other.  That is of some significance and it is a point to which I will return later.   What causes this debt? How does it relate to the history of the Canadian economy? Is it a problem?

Debt is an economic issue, but its development is the product of a series of changes in values (culture) and the way financial institutions function. It is closely tied to consumerism and the expansion of consumerism (in terms of the both depth and breadth) over the last generation. Debt has always been with us. Histories of banking and the social elite, as well as governments, show that there have -- as best as we can tell -- been institutions and networks that carried debt for a very long period of time. Heck, the OId Testament has rules against usury. Today, debt has become a normal feature of life. Most of us expect to be in debt for extended periods of our working life. We don't necessarily call this debt "debt" because we don't like the term so instead we use terms like "student loans," "mortgages." "personal lines of credit," or "credit cards," among others. In short, there has been a dramatic expansion of the ways in which we can accumulate debt, label it, manage it, and pay it back. What I'd like to do in this blog and some others is to explore debt from a cultural and historical perspective. I hasten to add that I am not necessarily faulting debt -- although, to tip my hand, I think there is a lot to fault -- but attempting to understand and address the questions I asked above.

Debt occurs when you spend more money than you have. That is simple and relatively straight forward. I'm not telling you something you do not already know, but just to keep everyone on the same wavelength, let's give an example. Imagine I want to buy a car. I don't have the money so I ask the car seller person for a loan. They give the loan. Overtime I pay it back with a small extra charge. That extra change is, of course, called interest and it is compensation that I give the car seller people for getting to use their money. Because I pay interest, this means that overtime, I end up paying back more than the price of the car.  Moreover this interest is compounded. That is, you are, in effect, paying interest on interest. You can find a discussion of this here if you need a refresher. But, for our purposes, what it means is that you end up paying back more on your loan than a straight calculation of interest might suggest. For instance, imagine that I buy a car for $100. Over a three year period, the compounded interest I would pay on my $100, if the interest rate were 5%, is $116.15. For our purposes, what this means is that the car that I bought for $100 ended up actually costing me $116.15.

You can find a nifty site that allows you to calculate compound interest here.

You can think of interest rates as the cost of money. This is confusing because we often think of money as the way of address costs. But, in an economic sense, this is not strictly true. Money is a means of transaction and a symbol of wealth at the same time. When I get a loan, what I am actually doing is buying money. Why would I buy money? On one level the idea of buying money seems to make no sense at all. Well ... as I have already intimated, we buy money (get loans, that is accumulate debt) for all kinds of reasons so that we can take that money and use it to buy something else (a car, a house, an education, etc.). But, because we had to buy the money in the first place, our purchase of the car or house or education is mediated. We are not directly buying that thing that we want. And, for the moment, let us assume that the thing we want to buy is legitimate. After all, as I have been blogging, there is nothing wrong with education. And, I own a house and a car. I'm not shooting anyone down for buying such things. The point that is important to note is that the purchase is now mediated by a series of financial institutions -- I bought my car from a car seller but secured my car loan (bought money to give to the car seller which made the cost of the thing I wanted to buy go up) from my bank. My example is pretty silly and small but run the compound interest on a 25 or 30 mortgage at even a low interest rate over time and see what happens.  You might be surprised.

It is also important to note that not all interest rates are created equal. I'm middle class and because of that I have access to relatively easy credit at relatively low interest rates. In fact, my bank offers to sell me money all the time. They don't call it that. Like I said, they call it credit cards (increasing your credit limit) and lines of credit and "catch up" loans (remember those!).

It does not take a lot of see why excessive debt can become a problem. Bankruptcy (which can also be called a number of things) can be the product of a range of contributing factors, but it occurs when you owe more money than you can reasonably -- or, perhaps even possibly -- pay back over time. This is a product of the expansion of debt and credit (that is, the amount of money people are willing to sell you). I started thinking about this blog because of comments made on FB by a friend who has some serious crushing debt issues. He is about my age and has large student loans. His repayments on these loans are significant and, like many others, he is having a hard time finding full time employment. That is, he works in the precarious employment market, which guarantees neither regular work nor necessarily good wages. His quick calculations have led him to find himself in a situation that he finds really angering and I cannot say that I blame him (a subject I will get to as time goes by).

Let's play out an example to illustrate this point. If I have a salary of $100.00 per month and I owe $20 of that in rent and $15 of that for groceries and $5 for heat and $5 for utilities and $5 for renters insurance and $5 for a phone ... you can see how my regular bills start adding up really quickly. I have now spent over half my income and I've not paid my car loan or my car insurance or my student loan or the loan for my furniture nor gotten Christmas presents for family or gotten any clothes. Debts can mount for all kinds of reasons because there are so many ways to get credit. In addition to my car loan, I suspect most people have a credit card loan they have accumulated somewhere (they may even have more than one), a line of credit payment; they may need to buy school supplies. If you are a parent, you have a whole bunch of other costs. Furniture loans ... etc.

Debt serving charges (interest = the price we paid to buy that money in the first place that we now have to pay back) in this context starts to become a problem. Thus, in one situation debt is manageable. If I can keep my debt low (say, a mortgage and a car loan), I will be OK and can manage that debt from my income. I might not have a lot to spare at the end of the month but I can keep making payments and, over a long time, the amount I owe will slowly decrease. It becomes a problem when one cannot make payments, that is, one defaults, on loans. On a broader social and economic level, this is manageable if it happens on a modest level. In fact, defaulting on loans happens all the time. Money lending people know this and have it built into their calculations. A certain percentage of people to whom I loan money will not be able to pay me back. As long as it is not too many, the interest the others pay covers over that loss and things go well.

When it occurs on a large scale ... then that is where problems begin.  This is what happened in the US (again, there were a variety of contributing factors) in 2008. A whole bunch of people could not pay the loans on their houses (or, mortgages). Because of this, banks suddenly did not have a lot of money left in the till (and insurance companies that had insured those loans took a huge hit). In effect, the amount of capital (money) in the economy shrunk.

Again, I recognize that sounds odd. How does money disappear. Imagine this situation: I owe the Bank of Sackville $100 at 5% interest over three years, compounded that means that I will pay back just over $116. The bank uses that $116 for a bunch of things but let's assume we have a nice bank and say it is paying its employees with that money. Then I cannot make a loan payment because, say,  I lost my job or I was over-extended and had a bunch of other loans. I am starting to have to make choices between paying my loan and buying groceries for my kids. So, I don't pay loan (I default). But, I took the $100 and gave it to the car company. The bank cannot come and get back that money because I no longer have it. It can come and take my car, but I've now had the car for a bit, it has lost value, and so even if they take,  reselling it will not pay back the money that I borrowed (my debt), let alone the interest that is needed to pay employees. And, what if they can't sell it? Here is how money disappears), the bank had on its books my loan and interest as assets. Assets are the money I (or, you, or the bank) have. While the money was not actually there, because they assumed I would pay it back, it was counted as an asset: we have X amount of money coming in.

Again, this is not rocket science and you have all heard of this and perhaps even done it yourself.  You may have said something like "I don't have the money to buy X now but I get paid on Thursday and so I'll buy it then." When you do that you are counting a future earning (money you have not yet received) as an asset. What happens if you are not paid on Thursday?  That asset vanishes. The same thing occurs with the bank. The money that was on the books (because they lent it to me and I promised to pay them back with interest) was a fiction. The money did not actually exist. I was counting my future earnings as an asset that I would use to pay the bank and the bank was counting my payments as an asset to pay employees, give dividends to stock holders, etc. My insolvency -- my default on my loan -- makes it impossible for me to pay it back and the fiction of its existence is exposed. The money is actually not there. Thus, I guess it does not disappear per se but is shown to not exist.

This is what these warnings are all about. In effect, what the CBC expert is noting and what some financial institutions are saying is that there is too much debt in the Canadian economy, our rates of repayment cannot be sustained, this means people will default and defaults on a mass scale hurt the economy. In my example, what happens to the Bank of Sackville if I default on my loan and they cannot pay their employees?

How does all this relate to culture? What interests me is a couple of things and it is to these matters I will turn in future blogs. How did we think it was good to get into this situation in the first place? Why do we accumulate debt when, on one level, it does not make a lot of sense. How does debt relate to consumerism?

Flip This Team: The Blue Jays in 2019

A bold predication: no one Jays opening day roster will necessarily be on the team after the All-Star game.  Clearly, the Jays won't hav...