With some aspects of deliberate searching and some degree of serendipity at work, I have been traveling to some key cities and markets in the last six months. It is important to have some structure to anything one does, but there must be a bit of latitude in order for one to follow leads or change course according to situational demands. I wanted to revisit New York, Spain, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen this year, but also to see Turkey and Greece to get not only a spiritual sense of where things are headed there, but also how people are adapting to both economic hardship and straddling the line of peace between major global players (the latter referring to Turkish foreign policy between the US, Russia, EU, Iran, and Israel). In the case of Germany, my findings have been expressed in earlier postings and in videos: I particularly see the Heidelberg area and the country as a whole as something of a guardian of our intellectual past and future, though I do not believe that this country possesses a “miracle economy” at the moment, an issue I hope to tackle at another time.
It was of the occasionally more erratic, fortuitous nature of travel, however, that I have become situated in Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the moment. As I looked for options to depart Greece in early June 2012, it was a fluke of the panic of the impending Greek elections on 17 June that made it possible for me to get a flight to North America via Montréal for €205 ($252USD) on an AirTransat chartered flight. As I have friends and contacts in Montreal, it was particularly a good bargain for me, and I wanted to see first-hand the “manifestations,” or student protests regarding tuition hikes in Quebec.
I did not expect to like Montreal as much as I have or to obtain some casual work and tarot clients in very short order. Furthermore, in the year-and-a-half I lived in Canada while attending a master’s program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and in meeting many English Canadians, I was told mostly negative things about Quebec. For many people more involved in political studies or simply inhabiting Canada, some of the more negative perceptions about the province and French-speaking Canada may be valid. It is said that other parts of Canada subsidize Quebec in order to keep it as part of the country following very lively separatist efforts. However, as you may see from my YouTube channel, I believe some of the accusations of the province being a burden to the country are not as valid as one may find in official media or daily conversation. A very quick perusal of products in a supermarket will reveal labels indicating locally produced food and consumer products, retail space is largely occupied, restaurants are busy, people shop in spite of a 15% sales tax (GST + QST) on most items, and there is a noticeable presence of families, spurred on by the support of provincial $7-a-day daycare. Montreal is very diverse and supports a population of many more languages than just French and English.
I do not mean to idealize the social or business situations in Montreal, and cannot speak for other parts of Quebec, as both French and English speakers often feel marginalized or left out in many circumstances (French speakers sometimes scowl or refuse to serve English-speaking patrons in English, for instance, as they are not required to do so by law, and English speakers often refuse to learn or use French). I have had English-speaking friends who grew up in Quebec and felt pushed out. However, what I believe is that the situation of a multilingual society with modest social programs (a rarity in the world today) seems to be more functional than outsiders realize, and a US/UK-led notion of extreme laissez-faire economics, austerity policies, and libertarianism is trying to enforce itself worldwide. Any successes or superior results in Quebec or other more humanist markets will be concealed or denounced as parasitic upon the “producing” countries, corporations, and individuals. While we do not want to regulate persons or entities excessively and to the point of deterring them from creating value in a society, I have seen zero evidence in Western countries that extreme fiscal austerity does anything for the populations or their books.
In other words, Montreal and presumably Quebec as a whole are at least a partial success story in terms of how the management of the province goes and also the social dynamics that are made possible as a result, and the consolidators of our time stand to gain by making all from the outside think that it is a failure. Every place I have visited this year has evidenced conditions of decline and strain from the present economic situation, but Montreal seems to be weathering circumstances better. Quebecers have lower consumer/household debts than the rest of Canada (1) (especially interesting 2), which as a whole has a debt load of 152% against income (3).
This area of the country suffers the same plague as the rest of Canada of having high prices and a property bubble, but this is largely the result of being a commodities-based economy during a commodities boom period, as well as a safe(r) haven for capital in the global financial crisis. I suspect that the slow closing off of the US from outside influence, investment capital, and immigration creates a more hospitable environment for growth (though there are great emerging local economies in the US and Canada as a whole is set for a correction of sorts). Combined with a tradition for social tolerance (though threatened and diminishing at the moment), this location has legs in terms of a future of prosperity if present conditions remain.
Historically, the most prosperous regions, cities, and city-states were the locations that had very relaxed social environments, tolerant positions on religion, multiculturalism, ease of doing business, and yet successful collection of taxes. In Europe, I have frequently read that for long periods of time, the two countries that most often had these conditions were the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. At the moment, there are fewer and fewer low-cost (or at least economically robust) places to set up house and prosper. In the near future, I will be analyzing where the better locations to be living and working in are, but most of this will be revealed at private salons, or I may direct interested parties to the proper consulting firms. There are a number of not-so-obvious factors that must be present in order to thrive in a particular market.
Please be open to travel at the moment in order to expand your network, but also do not lose sight of the assets in your own backyard. See me in Montreal!