Are Canadians (North Turtle Islanders) Lazy?

Yesterday my supervisor mentioned to me that particular teachers in my school, where I work and often lecture as an Employment Specialist, were offended by a statement I had made: Canadians are lazy. 

Of course, this comment was made by me based on personal observations while comparing my own experience of working and living overseas as opposed to what I see here in Canada, particularly in BC and the Lower Mainland. The context is this: IN COMPARISON to continuously rising lands such as South Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Brazil, India, etc., not only Canada, but most Western countries, are lazy. Lazy in terms of having lost the work ethic that ensured the rise of our nations in the context of British, American and other Western nations´ global colonisation.

This argument is, of course, something that can be debated. But it is not something that should be hidden from our students, nor from immigrants to Canada, nor the general population. In Harvard professor Niall Ferguson´s recent book Civilisation: The West and the Rest, he argues that there are 6 key qualities, ¨killer apps¨ he says, in deference to his intended youthful audience, that allowed Western nations to rise up from being a backwards backwater in comparison to the great empires of the Muslim world, China, India, etc. They are: “competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic”. Ferguson argues that these same characteristics have been adapted by non-Western nations, at the same time as the West is forgetting them. As a result, the West is declining, and other areas of the planet are on the rise.

While I come from a completely different worldview from Professor Ferguson**, and disagree with his ¨controversial standpoint that Western dominance has on the whole been a progressive force and that on the basis of a cost benefit analysis the good outweighs the bad . . . a constant theme in all his books¨, I do agree that Canadians and British Columbians in particular have lost their cutting edge in terms of work standards, including our work ethic. This is a key reason why manufacturing is being relocated to other nations, coupled with the fact that our wages are too high and thus uncompetitive on an international scale. Myself, I would argue that the wages we all make in BC are far below the actual value of the work we do.

Nevertheless, the reality of the situation is that we are witnessing the loss of key industries due to outsourcing to Philippines, India, China, and even traditionally economically disadvantaged areas of Canada such as the East Coast. Could it be that companies look elsewhere for labour, not simply due to our high labour cost, but also our low working productivity?

Of course, nations such as South Korea and Japan, although they are to be commended on what they have accomplished by the sweat of their brow and ingenuity, nevertheless have produced stress in workers that has had many harmful effects such as health issues and early deaths. I would not suggest that Canadians swing the pendulum over to such an extreme.

However, the low level of production standards, the discouraging of workers by management of their staff working hard, using their creativity and ingenuity, and their pursuit of excellence, and the general malaise in the workplace which I observe here in BC is something I find disturbing. Indeed, this is a key feature of the local labour market which needs to be publically addressed, debated and dealt with. I am doing immigrants and others no favour by neglecting such an important issue.

Thus, my speeches in the future will not disregard the reality of the local labour market which states that Canadians companies have lost their cutting edge and work ethic, and have in fact become, like it or not, lazy. To state this publically is NOT a form of discrimination or put-down. It is, rather, a warning that we Canadians must heed to.

We will continue to lose jobs to other countries if we do not address such issues. Immigrants faced with looking for a job and starting and running a business must be aware of the Canadian context. I will continue to let them know about it. That is my job. It does no one any favour to sugar coat my words.

My fellow staff need to be aware that in my public and private conversations and speeches, I will continue to speak on issues that are important to our clients. I have been an Employment Counsellor and English teacher since 1991 here in BC, except for a brief stint to complete a Master´s in Cross Cultural Studies, and work in Beijing, China, for 6 years. My observations tell me that we are a province that is in crisis economically, in regards to labour, pay structure, workplace standards, treatment of workers, etc.

On the other hand, we have never before had such opportunity to face the economic reality with enthusiasm and optimism. With booming Asia Trade and a rising First Nations population, along with the demise of our neighbour and traditional trading partner, the US (which is absolutely NOT something to rejoice in, given the fact that their downfall drastically affects us), among other factors, British Columbians are in a unique position to build our economy and society in a way that ensures every man, woman and child will be properly cared for economically, politically, physically, etc. The opportunity is ours if we are willing to take it.

If you would like me to change my vocabulary to something more politically correct, I can say that Canadians are lazy simply means that we and other Western nations have lost our cutting edge, including our work ethic. If we do not rediscover the notion of hard work, we risk being overtaken and thrown to the wolves by other more passionate nations. This is a warning to all Canadians, as well as part of necessary education that I feel I must impart to our clients.


Watch Ferguson´s TED speech here.  Also listen to his 30 minute NPR speech.

Decline of the West and the rise of China here.

Other links discussing the potential LAZINESS of Canadians:

Stating we ARE lazy:


From, accessed May 16, 2012:

The difference in attitudes is deep rooted within our nationalist culture, says Benson Honig, who holds the Teresa Cascioli chair in entrepreneurial leadership at the DeGroote School of Business. This leads to a productivity and innovation gap between the two North American countries.

Canada “is a country that was founded by a company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, that trapped beavers and cut down wood,” he says. “We can’t continue to do what we were doing. We can’t continue to sell 85 per cent of our business to the U.S., we need to go global.”

Canadian businesses were lulled into a lazy mindset because of a low Canadian dollar for a couple of decades, Honig explains. With the dollar low, it made sense to rely on simple manufacturing and selling of products to the U.S. But now that the dollar is at parity, innovation is needed to find new business models.


Killer ‘apps’: the ideas that propelled the west to world domination

1.Competition: In the 15th century, China was the most advanced civilisation in the world, while Europe was a backwater. But then things changed and by the late 18th century Adam Smith could observe that China had been “long stationary”. What happened? Ferguson argues that Europe’s fragmented political structure led to competition and encouraged Europeans to seek opportunities in distant lands. The increasingly insular China, by contrast, stagnated.

2. Science: The 16th and 17th centuries were the age of science, with an extraordinary number of breakthroughs occurring. This revolution was, Ferguson writes, “by any scientific measure, wholly European”. In the Muslim world, clericism curtailed the spread of knowledge, while in Europe, aided by the printing press, the scope of scholarship dramatically widened. Ultimately, breakthroughs in science led to improvements in weaponry, further cementing the west’s advantage.

3. Property: Why did the empire established by the English in north America in the 17th century ultimately prove so much more successful than that established by the Spanish in south America a century earlier? It was, Ferguson contends, because the English settlers brought with them a particular conception of widely distributed property rights and democracy, inherited from John Locke. This proved a far better recipe for success than the Spanish model of concentrated wealth and authoritarianism.

4. Modern science: According to Ferguson, modern medicine was the west’s “most remarkable killer application”. Western medical advances in the 19th and 20th centuries increased life expectancies across the world, including in the colonies. The French in particular, largely thanks to a lofty conception of their imperial mission, brought significant improvements to public health in western Africa, developing effective vaccinations for diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever.

5. Consumption: The west’s dominance of the rest of the world was not only achieved by force; it was also, as Ferguson shows, achieved through the market. The industrial revolution in 18th and 19th century Britain created a model of consumerist society that has proved irresistible, as shown, for example, by the way that the western style of dressing has swept the globe. Yet there’s a paradox: how was it that an economic system designed to offer infinite choice has ended up homogenising humanity? 

6. Work ethic: As Max Weber noted a century ago, Protestantism was a form of Christianity that encouraged hard work (and just as importantly, Ferguson adds, reading and saving). It isn’t a coincidence, he says, that the decline of religion in Europe has led to Europeans becoming the “idlers of the world” (while the more religious US has remained hard-working). Interestingly, Ferguson also argues that China’s embrace of hard work is partly because of the spread there of Protestantism.


Transcript for Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity

Let’s talk about billions. Let’s talk about past and future billions. We know that about 106 billion people have ever lived. And we know that most of them are dead. And we also know that most of them live or lived in Asia. And we also know that most of them were or are very poor — did not live for very long. Let’s talk about billions. Let’s talk about the 195,000 billion dollars of wealth in the world today. We know that most of that wealth was made after the year 1800. And we know that most of it is currently owned by people we might call Westerners: Europeans, North Americans, Australasians. 19 percent of the world’s population today, Westerners own two-thirds of its wealth.

Economic historians call this “The Great Divergence.” And this slide here is the best simplification of the Great Divergence story I can offer you. It’s basically two ratios of per capita GDP, per capita gross domestic product, so average income. One, the red line, is the ratio of British to Indian per capita income. And the blue line is the ratio of American to Chinese. And this chart goes back to 1500. And you can see here that there’s an exponential Great Divergence. They start off pretty close together. In fact, in 1500, the average Chinese was richer than the average North American. When you get to the 1970s, which is where this chart ends, the average Briton is more than 10 times richer than the average Indian. And that’s allowing for differences in the cost of living. It’s based on purchasing power parity. The average American is nearly 20 times richer than the average Chinese by the 1970s.

So why? This wasn’t just an economic story. If you take the 10 countries that went on to become the Western empires, in 1500 they were really quite tiny — five percent of the world’s land surface, 16 percent of its population, maybe 20 percent of its income. By 1913, these 10 countries, plus the United States, controlled vast global empires — 58 percent of the world’s territory, about the same percentage of its population, and a really huge, nearly three-quarters share of global economic output. And notice, most of that went to the motherland, to the imperial metropoles, not to their colonial possessions.

Now you can’t just blame this on imperialism — though many people have tried to do so — for two reasons. One, empire was the least original thing that the West did after 1500. Everybody did empire. They beat preexisting Oriental empires like the Mughals and the Ottomans. So it really doesn’t look like empire is a great explanation for the Great Divergence. In any case, as you may remember, the Great Divergence reaches its zenith in the 1970s, some considerable time after decolonization. This is not a new question.

Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, [posed] it through his character Rasselas in his novel “Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia,” published in 1759. “By what means are the Europeans thus powerful; or why, since they can so easily visit Asia and Africa for trade or conquest, cannot the Asiaticks and Africans invade their coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring us thither?”

That’s a great question. And you know what, it was also being asked at roughly the same time by the Resterners — by the people in the rest of the world — like Ibrahim Muteferrika, an Ottoman official, the man who introduced printing, very belatedly, to the Ottoman Empire — who said in a book published in 1731, “Why do Christian nations which were so weak in the past compared with Muslim nations begin to dominate so many lands in modern times and even defeat the once victorious Ottoman armies?” Unlike Rasselas, Muteferrika had an answer to that question, which was correct. He said it was “because they have laws and rules invented by reason.” It’s not geography.

You may think we can explain the Great Divergence in terms of geography. We know that’s wrong, because we conducted two great natural experiments in the 20th century to see if geography mattered more than institutions. We took all the Germans, we divided them roughly in two, and we gave the ones in the East communism, and you see the result. Within an incredibly short period of time, people living in the German Democratic Republic produced Trabants, the Trabbi, one of the world’s worst ever cars, while people in the West produced the Mercedes Benz. If you still don’t believe me, we conducted the experiment also in the Korean Peninsula. And we decided we’d take Koreans in roughly the same geographical place with, notice, the same basic traditional culture, and we divided them in two, and we gave the Northerners communism. And the result is an even bigger divergence in a very short space of time than happened in Germany. Not a big divergence in terms of uniform design for border guards admittedly, but in almost every other respect, it’s a huge divergence. Which leads me to think that neither geography nor national character, popular explanations for this kind of thing, are really significant.

It’s the ideas. It’s the institutions. This must be true because a Scotsman said it. And I think I’m the only Scotsman here at the Edinburgh TED. So let me just explain to you that the smartest man ever was a Scotsman. He was Adam Smith — not Billy Connolly, not Sean Connery — though he is very smart indeed. (Laughter) Smith — and I want you to go and bow down before his statue in the Royal Mile; it’s a wonderful statue — Smith, in the “Wealth of Nations” published in 1776 — that’s the most important thing that happened that year … (Laughter) You bet. There was a little local difficulty in some of our minor colonies, but …


“China seems to have been long stationary, and probably long ago acquired that full complement of riches which is consistent with the nature of its laws and institutions. But this complement may be much inferior to what, with other laws and institutions, the nature of its soil, climate, and situation might admit of.” That is so right and so cool. And he said it such a long time ago.

But you know, this is a TED audience, and if I keep talking about institutions, you’re going to turn off. So I’m going to translate this into language that you can understand. Let’s call them the killer apps. I want to explain to you that there were six killer apps that set the West apart from the rest. And they’re kind of like the apps on your phone, in the sense that they look quite simple. They’re just icons; you click on them. But behind the icon, there’s complex code. It’s the same with institutions. There are six which I think explain the Great Divergence. One, competition. Two, the scientific revolution. Three, property rights. Four, modern medicine. Five, the consumer society. And six, the work ethic. You can play a game and try and think of one I’ve missed at, or try and boil it down to just four, but you’ll lose.


Let me very briefly tell you what I mean by this, synthesizing the work of many economic historians in the process.

Competition means, not only were there a hundred different political units in Europe in 1500, but within each of these units, there was competition between corporations as well as sovereigns. The ancestor of the modern corporation, the City of London Corporation, existed in the 12th century. Nothing like this existed in China, where there was one monolithic state covering a fifth of humanity, and anyone with any ambition had to pass one standardized examination, which took three days and was very difficult and involved memorizing vast numbers of characters and very complex Confucian essay writing.

The scientific revolution was different from the science that had been achieved in the Oriental world in a number of crucial ways, the most important being that, through the experimental method, it gave men control over nature in a way that had not been possible before. Example: Benjamin Robins’s extraordinary application of Newtonian physics to ballistics. Once you do that, your artillery becomes accurate. Think of what that means. That really was a killer application. (Laughter) Meanwhile, there’s no scientific revolution anywhere else. The Ottoman Empire’s not that far from Europe, but there’s no scientific revolution there. In fact, they demolish Taqi al-Din’s observatory, because it’s considered blasphemous to inquire into the mind of God.

Property rights: It’s not the democracy, folks; it’s having the rule of law based on private property rights. That’s what makes the difference between North America and South America. You could turn up in North America having signed a deed of indenture saying, “I’ll work for nothing for five years. You just have to feed me.” But at the end of it, you’ve got a hundred acres of land. That’s the land grant on the bottom half of the slide. That’s not possible in Latin America where land is held onto by a tiny elite descended from the conquistadors. And you can see here the huge divergence that happens in property ownership between North and South. Most people in rural North America owned some land by 1900. Hardly anyone in South America did. That’s another killer app.

Modern medicine in the late 19th century began to make major breakthroughs against the infectious diseases that killed a lot of people. And this was another killer app — the very opposite of a killer, because it doubled, and then more than doubled, human life expectancy. It even did that in the European empires. Even in places like Senegal, beginning in the early 20th century, there were major breakthroughs in public health, and life expectancy began to rise. It doesn’t rise any faster after these countries become independent. The empires weren’t all bad.

The consumer society is what you need for the Industrial Revolution to have a point. You need people to want to wear tons of clothes. You’ve all bought an article of clothing in the last month; I guarantee it. That’s the consumer society, and it propels economic growth more than even technological change itself. Japan was the first non-Western society to embrace it. The alternative, which was proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, was to institutionalize and make poverty permanent. Very few Indians today wish that India had gone down Mahatma Gandhi’s road.

Finally, the work ethic. Max Weber thought that was peculiarly Protestant. He was wrong. Any culture can get the work ethic if the institutions are there to create the incentive to work. We know this because today the work ethic is no longer a Protestant, Western phenomenon. In fact, the West has lost its work ethic. Today, the average Korean works a thousand hours more a year than the average German — a thousand. And this is part of a really extraordinary phenomenon, and that is the end of the Great Divergence.

Who’s got the work ethic now? Take a look at mathematical attainment by 15 year-olds. At the top of the international league table according to the latest PISA study, is the Shanghai district of China. The gap between Shanghai and the United Kingdom and the United States is as big as the gap between the U.K. and the U.S. and Albania and Tunisia. You probably assume that because the iPhone was designed in California but assembled in China that the West still leads in terms of technological innovation. You’re wrong. In terms of patents, there’s no question that the East is ahead. Not only has Japan been ahead for some time, South Korea has gone into third place, and China is just about to overtake Germany. Why? Because the killer apps can be downloaded. It’s open source. Any society can adopt these institutions, and when they do, they achieve what the West achieved after 1500 — only faster.

This is the Great Reconvergence, and it’s the biggest story of your lifetime. Because it’s on your watch that this is happening. It’s our generation that is witnessing the end of Western predominance. The average American used to be more than 20 times richer than the average Chinese. Now it’s just five times, and soon it will be 2.5 times.

So I want to end with three questions for the future billions, just ahead of 2016, when the United States will lose its place as number one economy to China. The first is, can you delete these apps, and are we in the process of doing so in the Western world? The second question is, does the sequencing of the download matter? And could Africa get that sequencing wrong? One obvious implication of modern economic history is that it’s quite hard to transition to democracy before you’ve established secure private property rights. Warning: that may not work. And third, can China do without killer app number three? That’s the one that John Locke systematized when he said that freedom was rooted in private property rights and the protection of law. That’s the basis for the Western model of representative government. Now this picture shows the demolition of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Shanghai earlier this year. He’s now free again, having been detained, as you know, for some time. But I don’t think his studio has been rebuilt.

Winston Churchill once defined civilization in a lecture he gave in the fateful year of 1938. And I think these words really nail it: “It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained. That is civilization — and in its soil grow continually freedom, comfort and culture,” what all TEDsters care about most. “When civilization reigns in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people.” That’s so true.

I don’t think the decline of Western civilization is inevitable, because I don’t think history operates in this kind of life-cycle model, beautifully illustrated by Thomas Cole’s “Course of Empire” paintings. That’s not the way history works. That’s not the way the West rose, and I don’t think it’s the way the West will fall. The West may collapse very suddenly. Complex civilizations do that, because they operate, most of the time, on the edge of chaos. That’s one of the most profound insights to come out of the historical study of complex institutions like civilizations. No, we may hang on, despite the huge burdens of debt that we’ve accumulated, despite the evidence that we’ve lost our work ethic and other parts of our historical mojo. But one thing is for sure, the Great Divergence is over, folks.

Thanks very much.


Bruno Giussani: Niall, I am just curious about your take on the other region of the world that’s booming, which is Latin America. What’s your view on that?

Niall Ferguson: Well I really am not just talking about the rise of the East; I’m talking about the rise of the Rest, and that includes South America. I once asked one of my colleagues at Harvard, “Hey, is South America part of the West?” He was an expert in Latin American history. He said, “I don’t know; I’ll have to think about that.” That tells you something really important. I think if you look at what is happening in Brazil in particular, but also Chile, which was in many ways the one that led the way in transforming the institutions of economic life, there’s a very bright future indeed. So my story really is as much about that convergence in the Americas as it’s a convergence story in Eurasia.

BG: And there is this impression that North America and Europe are not really paying attention to these trends. Mostly they’re worried about each other. The Americans think that the European model is going to crumble tomorrow. The Europeans think that the American budget is going to explode tomorrow. And that’s all we seem to be caring about recently.

NF: I think the fiscal crisis that we see in the developed World right now — both sides of the Atlantic — is essentially the same thing taking different forms in terms of political culture. And it’s a crisis that has its structural facet — it’s partly to do with demographics. But it’s also, of course, to do with the massive crisis that followed excessive leverage, excessive borrowing in the private sector. That crisis, which has been the focus of so much attention, including by me, I think is an epiphenomenon. The financial crisis is really a relatively small historic phenomenon, which has just accelerated this huge shift, which ends half a millennium of Western ascendancy. I think that’s its real importance.

BG: Niall, thank you. (NF: Thank you very much, Bruno.)





About sleepless in turtle island

Hi, I´m Dimitri. I have lived in Turtle Island for awhile now, so my cultural understanding is slowly improving. Also, I can see things in this place that boggle my mind. Thus this blog...
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