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Why be Interested in a Better Future?

by John Brian Shannon | August 15, 2016

Why build a Better World?

Imagine for a moment the unforeseen has occurred, and lying in the middle of the road is your body covered by a white sheet.

Yes, you got hit by a bus only minutes ago. And now, body-less for the first time in your existence, your spirit is hearing the words of the ‘keepers of spirits’ as you watch the paramedics put your body into the Ambulance.

They tell you that you’ll sleep for 20-years and then be awoken in time to be born in the normal manner, but to a different set of parents, exactly 20-years from today. Happy Birth Day!

Oh, and, this part is important. You won’t have any of your present memories, you may be born anywhere in the world, you may be a different ethnicity or gender, you may be born within any socio-economic group — and your parent or parents might be the poorest on that particular continent or the richest, or anywhere in between. All these variables and more will be matters of chance.

For now, let’s assume that the above paradigm is true.

But what if you died and came back tomorrow?

‘Well’ you say, ‘It depends where I was born, and how highly my parents rank in that country.’

If you came back tomorrow; There’s only a 1 percent chance that you’d be a brand new member of the 1 percent. Did you know that the 1 percent manage to exist on more than $1179. per day, per person? How do they manage it?

Some 29 percent of the people alive today live between $10. and $1178. per day, per person.

And there’s a 71 percent chance that you’d be born into a family that lives on less than $10. per day, per person.

That’s our world in 2016.

Know your annual income?
Find out which percent group you belong to on this interactive CNN chart

You found your goat! Image courtesy of Mongolia on Pinterest.

You found your goat! Image courtesy of Mongolia on Pinterest.

Today, you’re more likely to be born into poverty, maybe living on the desolate Mongolian steppes.

Hey! In your previous life you always liked goats and always wanted to pet one. Now you can be a goat-herder for the next 64 years! Which is the average life expectancy of Mongolian males who live in yurts (tents) on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

Or maybe you’d be born as one of the Roma (formerly called gypsies) the poverty-stricken people who roam all over Europe, in sight of luxury every day, but never able to experience it.

Or maybe you’re born into a Muslim family trapped in present-day Syria. Better start studying that Koran as soon as you learn to read, I hear they don’t tolerate slackers there.

On the bright side, you have a 29 percent chance of being born into a family that exists on anything between $10. per day, per person and $1178. per day, per person. You rock!

Just remember that you won’t get to choose any of this, nor prepare for it in advance. It’ll be completely random. Nor will you have any memories of your previous life.

What if you came back 20-years from today?

One wonders what kind of world will exist 20-years from now. Hopefully, you’ll be one of the people who used your time wisely in this decade to help create a better future for all humanity — not only for yourself and your immediate family — but for people who are being born on every continent, at every economic strata.

If you knew today that you were going to be reborn in 20-years with a family and country chosen for you at random, what would you do today to help create a better future for all humanity?

In 2016, 7.4 billion people live on this planet and 1 percent of the world’s population own more than 50 percent of the world’s total wealth.

But in 2035, 8.8 billion people will live on this planet; And if present trends continue, the 1 percent will own more than 80 percent of the world’s total wealth.

Leaving only 20 percent of the world’s total wealth to be distributed between the remaining 8.7 billion in 2035.

If you expect to be alive in 2035, let’s hope you’ve used your time wisely in this decade to help create a better future for all humanity.

Share of the world's total wealth for the Top 1 percent and the Bottom 99 percent. Image courtesy of OXFAM.

Share of the world’s total wealth for the Top 1 percent and the Bottom 99 percent. Image courtesy of OXFAM.

Are the Winds of Change Blowing Across Canada’s Pension Plan?

by John Brian Shannon | June 2, 2016

Canada Flag made with red maple leaves on snow1

Canada Flag made with red maple leaves on snow.

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is at a unique point in its history. Mandatory for all Canadians, the CPP allows working Canadians to retire with a minimum income in addition to their company pensions, life savings and real estate equity.

The plan itself is in good financial shape due to sound institutional investing over many decades and it presently earns 1.1% more than it needs in order to meet all foreseen liabilities.

But that could change.

A severe recession could drive the plan into negative territory, necessitating a rise in the premiums that workers and employers pay — without making any changes to the benefits that retirees receive from the Canadian Pension Plan.

Alternatively, during a severe recession the government could simply lower the monthly benefit payment by a fractional amount in order to keep the CPP fully-funded — without making any changes to the premiums that workers and employers pay to fund the Canadian Pension Plan.

So, with a bit of wind in the sails (but not that much) why are we looking at possible changes to the CPP?

1) There is a minor political suggestion to take advantage of the 1 percent profit the plan presently generates and lower CPP premiums by some fraction. It looks like honest stewardship of public accounts on the part of the government.

However, by reducing worker and employer contributions the plan could soon find itself in jeopardy during an economic downturn and at the worst possible moment for Canadian workers and business it would need to raise premiums to meet future liabilities.

It’s a nice idea and if the investment was generating 10 percent or 20 percent more than its expected future liabilities, it might be worth a look. But it’s not. So let’s file that suggestion until such times as the CPP investment pool is earning outrageous profit and workers demand lower premiums.

2) Another suggestion that has been floated, and that is to slightly increase CPP premiums in order to increase the monthly benefit (the payment) which is paid to Canada’s senior citizens. In such cases, the benefit would increase after a minimum 3-year delay in order to ‘build-up’ enough capital to cover the increased benefit amount.

Which is a tempting idea, actually. The costs of living anywhere, but especially in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are skyrocketing, and senior citizens who live on a fixed income might find that an extra $100. per month (for example) can make the difference between eating well and paying for their herbal supplements, walkers, or other health-based assists that may be helping them, or not being able to afford them.

As the cost of living continues to rise over the decades, shouldn’t we at least think about increasing the CPP premiums by 1 percent that workers and employers pay? After all, eventually every one of us will retire and some or much of our retirement income may come from CPP.

Those retirees without company pensions, significant savings or real estate holdings, would really benefit from the extra monthly benefit amount, while those who are financially well-off may reject the idea that they should pay an extra 1 percent towards their CPP payroll deductions during their working years.

It’s an absolute no-brainer for those in the bottom two economic quintiles while those in the top three quintiles may scoff at the suggestion that a (for example) 1 percent premium increase which would result in higher monthly benefit amounts paid to them after their retirement, needs to be legislated into existence.

3) The third suggestion is for provincial pension plans that work in conjunction with CPP, the federal retirement plan. Quebec has its own plan, Ontario has just passed its own plan and other provinces are watching with interest.

Province Passes Ontario Retirement Pension Plan Act – June 1, 2016

Strengthening the retirement income system is critical to the future prosperity of the province. Studies show that many of today’s workers are not saving enough to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Pension coverage is also low for many Ontarians, with only one in four younger workers — aged 25 to 34 — participating in a workplace pension plan. — Province of Ontario | Newsroom

For retired people who have lived in the bottom 2 quintiles for most of their life and may not have a generous company pension, or do not have significant life savings, or do not have valuable real estate holdings that they can liquidate in order to live a fulfilling life, receiving a provincial monthly benefit in addition to Canada’s CPP benefit would dramatically improve their retirement.

It’s not such a big step as some may imagine. Provinces and the federal government charge and collect sales taxes, both levels of government have their own income tax system, and in many ways both the feds and the provinces work together to assure the health and safety of Canadians.

All that needs to be done is to write the necessary legislation (or simply photocopy Ontario’s system) and enact it in each province.

While retirees may not end up receiving two identical monthly benefit payments, even an extra (for example) $500. per month from a provincial pension plan, when coupled to their CPP pension monthly benefit payment, can make all the difference in the world to tomorrows retirees. Especially for seniors whose life partner (and co-payer) has passed away, an extra monthly payment can really make a difference in their lives.

4) Finally, no matter which way it goes with regards to the above points #1, #2, and #3, I hope federal government policymakers take this next suggestion seriously…

During retirement years it is expected that one spouse will pass away before the other — leaving the other to not only grieve, but to also suddenly face a major change in their monthly income.

I respectfully suggest that CPP legislation be changed to ease the suffering of suddenly widowed pensioners by allowing their (deceased) spouse’ normal monthly benefit payments to continue for a full 12 months following the death of their spouse.

That way, the remaining spouse won’t have to face both bereavement and a possible address change due to the sudden drop in income.

Canada could show that courtesy to recently bereaved pensioners now — and it wouldn’t even cost .1 percent — let alone a full 1 percent of the profit that the CPP investment pool presently generates.

We are indeed fortunate to live in this great country, and looking after our senior citizens — the very people who helped to build this great land into what it is today, should always be our first priority.

Let’s always treat our Canadian seniors with the kind consideration they deserve. They’ve earned it.

Recommended Reading:

Bonus Graphic:

Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) policymakers must factor-in global trends.


D’Oh Canada! Justin Trudeau: Statesman or Spendthrift?

by John Brian Shannon | November 9, 2015

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first official acts as the elected leader of the great and noble country of Canada, was to offer a free airplane flight home to the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper.

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau (2015)

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau (2015)

In any other country this sort of thing would be considered normal courtesy for a new Prime Minister to bestow upon the outgoing Prime Minister. But not in Canada. Noooo. Here, the wailing has just begun.

And before it’s all through, I’d expect the country to lose about 1000 extra trees and gallons of newspaper ink in order to properly cover the latest (purported) fiasco perpetrated by a Canadian Prime Minister.

Harrumph! “We caught you on the first day!” Or something to that effect.

It’s all so small-time

In a real country like, oh, (name any country) this so-called story wouldn’t have made the last page of any newspaper let alone the front page.

But here in Canada, some are now lining up to offer the new Prime Minister a lesson in spending ‘their’ money — as if they paid for the whole trip themselves.

And it is their money. Or a portion of it. The free ride home for former Prime Minister of Canada has cost each Canadian 1/3rd of a cent.

[According to unnamed sources, flying Stephen Harper to his home city of Calgary and returning the government aircraft to Ottawa cost $110,000 CAD. Divide that cost into 35,000,000 Canadians and you get 1/3rd of one cent, per capita. If you come up with a different math result, please advise. Wouldn’t it be exciting if I was wrong and it cost each Canadian 1/2 a cent per Prime Ministerial term? Woot! Free TimBit for you!]

Yes folks, that’s what it’s all about. Each Canadian citizen has paid one-third of one cent to fly the former PM home and return the empty jet to Ottawa

On the other hand, it has probably cost at least $1,000,000 for the ink, newsprint and internet use to publicize this (purported) scandalous waste of each taxpayers’ 1/3rd of a cent.

Aren’t we lucky this is a one-time only cost that we all bear at the end of each PM’s time in office?

If this sort of frivolous spending keeps up, each Canadian could conceivably be in for a whole cent over the course of 15 years — assuming we get a new PM every 5 years. Which has been known to occur.

But it’s the principle of the matter!

Slow news days raise our principles, don’t they?

The Americans must be dying with laughter

It reminds me of a Monty Python sketch called The Funniest Joke in the World where the British Army obtained the lines to the funniest joke in the world and broadcast the joke to the German soldiers across the WWII front — and the joke being so funny, would have the German soldiers dying of laughter in the German trenches. And according to the sketch, that is how the Brits won the Second World War. Jolly Good, mates!

It’s even funnier if you read the previous paragraph aloud in John Cleese’s highbrow British accent. Your kids will love you.

But is that any way to treat our American cousins? They read our newspapers… so it follows that stories like this could become injurious to their health.

So far, Canadians seem to be impervious to this new weapon.

And now for Something. Completely. Different!

The security of Canada’s military, economic, industrial, and social fabric was protected last week in dramatic fashion by the new Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau — a man of excellent pedigree, impeccable credentials and uncommon statesmanship.

Mr. Trudeau, recently elected to Canada’s highest office, had the foresight and courage to arrange a high level of transportation security for the one person in Canada most likely to know every single Canadian military, economic, and industrial secret of the past decade, the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper.

Mr. Trudeau performed this courageous act knowing full well that he’d be under fire for years to come from ‘extremist commentators’ within Canada. j/k

Due to Mr. Trudeau’s actions, Canada’s official secrets — all of which are known by the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Stephen Harper — have now been deemed safe by unnamed experts in Canadian security.

Mr. Harper has been further advised to call the 911 operator at least 30 minutes in advance of any surprise abduction or interrogation attempt by foreign enemies that may wish to gain access to Mr. Harper’s extensive knowledge of Canada’s official secrets. The former Prime Minister was keen to agree to the plan, saying that it had been his great privilege to serve the wonderful and generous citizens of Canada.

D’Oh Canada! We stand on guard for thee!

Unless it costs more than 1/3rd of a cent per capita.

Maybe the Americans would be kind enough to help us defray some of these costs. Things (like the costs of being a real country) are getting out of hand these days!