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This note was originally published July 01, 2011 at 08:25 in

Me debunk

An American myth?
And take my life
In my hands?
Where the great plains begin
At the hundredth meridian.”

- The Tragically Hip

There is no doubting American global dominance in both military and economic affairs. The United States is the world’s reigning superpower and has been really since before the end of the Cold War. While the Soviet Union was considered a rival to the United States for many years, this was primarily due to the nuclear arms race and MAD, or mutually assured destruction. In reality, the Soviet Union was never really on par with the United States from an economic perspective.

The term Pax Americana is used to describe the relative peace enjoyed by the Western World due to the preponderance of power held by the United States over the last century. Since World War II, the idea of Pax Americana has manifested itself in the many international institutions backed by American influence and finance. Initially, this began with the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Japan, and eventually transitioned to the UN, NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Immediately following World War II, the United States was responsible for roughly half of the world’s industrial output, held 80% of the globe’s gold reserves, and was the sole nuclear power. Even if America has lost share over time, she remains the world’s dominant economic power at 25% of the world’s output, so it is with some jest that I use the term Pax Canadiana to characterize the growing role of Canada in the global economy. But today is July 1st, or Canada Day.

In his book, "The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future", the UCLA Geographer Laurence C. Smith highlights some of the key forces driving economic share gains of the Northern Rim Countries, or as he calls them NORCs. Ironically, global warming will potentially be a major positive for the NORCs. Some of the key points that Smith highlights, which I’ve excerpted from the Globe and Mail, include:

  • New shipping lanes will open during the summer in the Arctic, allowing Europe to realize its 500-year-old dream of direct trade between the Atlantic and the Far East, and resulting in new access to and economic development in the north;
  • Oil resources in Canada will be second only to those in Saudi Arabia, and the country's population will swell by more than 30 percent, a growth rate rivalling India's and six times faster than China's;
  • NORCs will be among the few place on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change; NORCs collectively will constitute the fourth largest economy in the world, behind the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the European Union and the United States; and
  • NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water, which may be sold and transported to other regions.

Keith has previously mentioned Smith’s work and the NORC theme is one you will likely see us revisiting in the coming years.

Interestingly, Canada is actually starting to show some subtle shifts in its economy versus the United States. Coming out of the depression of 2008 / 2009, Canada has had much more stable and even economic growth. A primary driver of this is the relative health of Canadian banks, which didn’t underwrite as many bad loans during the housing boom of the late 2000s and therefore still have the ability to broadly extend credit to consumers.

From a fiscal health perspective, Canada is in very strong shape versus its southern neighbor, and really much of the Western World. Canadian debt-to-GDP is estimated at 42%, which is roughly half of that of the United States. Further, Canada’s current budget, which was passed by the Conservatives in the fall of 2010, projects a balanced budget by 2015. Currently, not even in its long term projections, through 2035, does the Congressional Budget Office anticipate a balanced budget in the United States.

Finally, from a longer term perspective, the United States has literally always had a lower unemployment rate than Canada, or at least going back as far as World War II. In the chart of the day, attached below, we’ve charted relative unemployment rates comparing the United States and Canada. Currently, Canada’s unemployment rate is 7.4%, while the United States’ is 9.1%.

Much like the excerpt from the iconic Canadian band, The Tragically Hip, I’m not going to take “my life in my hands” and “debunk an American myth”, but I would advise keeping Canada and the rest of the NORCs front and center in the coming years as you and your colleagues scour the globe for investment ideas.

While Canadians are certainly excited about the economic prospects of their nation, all Canadians respect the long standing special relationship shared with the United States. President John F. Kennedy perhaps summarized this relationship up best when he said in an address to Canadian parliament in 1961:

“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

Both Canadian and Americans should be proud of this special relationship and the good it does in the world.
 

Happy Canada Day! Happy July 4th! And happy 100th birthday Bassano, Alberta!

Keep your head up and stick on the ice,

Daryl G. Jones

Director of Research

Pax Canadiana - Chart of the Day

Pax Canadiana - Virtual Portfolio