How Andy Turnbull got it wrong

By Natalie Sit

Reading The Numbers Game provokes only one emotion–anger. This anger is of the type that could be directed towards the Klein government’s blasé attitudes towards post-secondary education or their lax policies towards the environment. But this anger is not directed at society, it’s directed at the writer Andy Turnbull.

At the beginning, you agree with Turnbull. He believes gross national product and gross domestic product are calculated in the wrong way. He points to evidence like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The cleanup cost added millions to Alaska’s economy but was obviously damaging environmentally. And to a person with a leftist bent, Turnbull speaks some truth.

Turnbull also does a good job in the earlier chapters in keeping the economic terminology to a minimum. And the ones he does use, he explains them enough for those without the benefit of Economics 201.

But around page 43, things get a little strange. He brings the idea of benefit goods and cost goods. Benefit goods are generally goods like peas and potatoes that add economic benefit to the community. Cost goods like a lawyer’s services, usually produce social benefits but are an economic cost. Turnbull then adds that Canada is sending more jobs to other countries that produce benefit goods. And the industries that Canada retains, like gambling, aren’t doing much for the economy, nor producing real money. This begs the question: does Canada actually need to return to more primary-oriented industries like farming and manufactu-ring? This doesn’t make much sense since the world is moving more toward knowledge-based industries. The reader wants Turnbull to state his ideas. He’s writing a book, he has our attention, why doesn’t he provide some solutions?

After that the book takes a turn for the worse. Turnbull then goes on to pillage the Canadian university system. It’s almost as if he’s had fireside charts with Ralph Klein.

Turnbull writes, "Arts colleges need only classrooms and a library, and teachers are cheap because they require no specific skills. Almost any arts graduate can teach arts courses and teaching is about the best job many arts graduates can hope for." Ouch. I really hope the University of Calgary Faculty Association doesn’t catch wind of this.

A few pages later, Turnbull suggests that everyone should attend technical schools instead. Without any properly trained factory workers, who will the MBAs manage? One can counter by asking who will come up with the technology that the trained factory workers produce? Practical knowledge has its place but theory is also important.

Turnbull also dismisses student journalists as just students who "bow to the dictates of teachers and school officials." As a point of interest, the Gauntlet is fully autonomous from the Students’ Union and the university, and has been for the past 12 years. And most newspapers are in fact trying for autonomy. But you’ve got to hand it to Turnbull for sending his book to university student newspapers.

Oh yeah. He also deplores the women’s movement.

While there is not enough room to print the actual text, it’s enough to say that he wished women had stayed in the kitchen. He says the trend of women working outside of the home has contributed to the "numbers game." Women no longer cook family meals or make their own clothes, while working women put an unhealthy strain on the economy because they need extra services. He also hints that women working outside the home breaks up families. Does Turnbull not realize that a single-income cannot support most families? A dual income is often needed to survive. Would welfare help the economy?

Turnbull promises this book will blow the lid off Canada’s economic problems, but he doesn’t. He points at wrong areas like universities and ignores a crucial area–people’s attitudes. If we can’t move away from a materialistic society, nothing will change.

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