by Sean Corrigan
When Crusoe woke that morning, he lay, motionless for a moment, as he prepared himself for the rigours of the day ahead.
He cursed softly to himself as he became aware, once more, of the stiffness in his hamstrings which had been brought on by the long hours of trying to keep his balance on the shifting sandy bottom, as he had stood, waist-deep in the surf, dragging his self-made fishing net again and again through the water.
But, no matter, he thought. The catch had been just sufficient to afford him a light supper and also to feed the new man on the island, Friday, fortifying the latter while he busied himself about the tasks Crusoe had set him, making extra hunting traps and then digging out a makeshift food larder in the cool soil at the edge of the forest.
Though his shoulders still smarted where the merciless midday sun and the stinging salt had combined to blister the skin off them — and though his stomach rumbled in protest at the sparing evening meal which his shared haul had left him — Crusoe was content enough, for he knew that his sacrifice would mean more for both men in the future as they combined their labour to increase the tools and equipment with which they could better exploit their fertile tropical environment.
Canadian retail sales unexpectedly rose to a record high in April as debt-loving consumers like Randy Mickevicius provided the lift.
Retailers rang up $30.9 billion in business, up 1.5% from March, Statistics Canada reported yesterday.
Mr. Mickevicius confessed to having been on a credit-fuelled spending spree over the past 10 months.
After buying a house with his partner Karen Bogo last summer, he has turned to a 17-month interest-free payment plan, a line of credit, or his credit card to buy everything from a big-screen TV to a washer and dryer. He has also been renovating their basement, and, most recently, put another $1,100 on plastic for two round-trip plane tickets to Vancouver.
"It's scary, but such is life," says the 32-year-old manager of an upscale Italian restaurant in Toronto. "We are not going to shut ourselves off from enjoying anything in life because we are in debt."
Downing the last of his geneva, Piet van der Eyck, clapped the tankard back on the table and grubbed in his purse for a few coins.
It was time he was on his way, he thought, or he'd have to walk the last few miles in the darkness and — in these wild and fevered times — it was not always so safe to be abroad in the twilight hour before the night watchmen began their rounds.
It used not to be a concern, but a strange madness had overtaken the good burghers of the stadt lately, loosening their morals and dissolving the restraints of common decency.
Piet himself was not blameless in this regard, for he too had succumbed to the sin of avarice as he had scrambled to find a down payment for one of the bulbs which had been separated from a particularly fine, variegated specimen.
Once or twice, he had said sharp things to his neighbours; once or twice he had indulged in sharper practices, in his greed for a few guilders' deposit.
He had even come, albeit briefly, to regard his own, sweet wife as his enemy — especially that time when Elvira, her sturdy Flemish farmers' arms firmly crossed and her reddish brows knitted in stern disapproval, had tried to prevent him from spending next year's seed corn money on yet another of those accursed flowers.
“I wouldn't expect a woman to understand,” he was ashamed to recall he'd told her. “Investing is a man's work. So you busy yourself about your needlework, dame, and I'll look to acquiring us some riches and the better station they will afford.”
But Piet was, at heart too honest and straightforward a man to be led astray for long.
Increasingly as the mania wore on, he had been nagged by an inner voice — whether his conscience or his own native wisdom, he could never say. But what he did know was that he began more and more to doubt the sanity of what he was doing.
All of the family's hard-saved cash — including Elvira's handsome dowry — had been handed over to the fidgety, sharp-nosed bulb brokers in the main town. He had even borrowed a sum from the drover who usually bought his surplus cattle, promising the man a share of his profits later.
However, Piet had felt uneasy at the thought that a man could get rich by doing no more than buying and selling — and selling something of so little underlying utility, to boot.
What good, after all was a tulip? You couldn't eat it. You couldn't make fibre from it. You couldn't even extract those vibrant, but short-lived colours and sell them as pigment to one of the many artists who nowadays flourished in the back streets of the city, catering to the tastes of the many new rich who had so suddenly sprung up.
No, at last Piet had seen sense and so, that very day, he had travelled up to Amsterdam to sell his prize possession.
The man he visited had been very eager to have it, though he grumbled long and loud at Piet's insistence that he be paid there and then, in full and in good solid gold, not in promissory notes.
“You pig-rearers are all the same,” the man had fumed. “You always want to get your grubby peasants' hands on cash. Don't you people understand that the world moves along on credit, these days?”
“Imagine where we'd all be if we had to pay the full price of everything in gold? How would anyone get started in this business? How could a man make a profit, if he wasn't able to pay five percent down and the rest to come?”
Finally, Piet had offered a small reduction in his selling price and the man had instantly agreed and had rushed to unlock his money box and weigh out the balance due.
In fact, Piet suspected that the man would have been more than pleased to have paid his original price entire and that he thought Piet was a bucolic fool who could not fully appreciate the value of the flower he was offering.
But Piet was happy. He had finally quit the tulip madness and he had already marked out the field he would buy with the proceeds and even some of the kine he would soon fatten up on its lush water-meadow grass.
Soon, with God's good grace and a favourable hay harvest, the extra income would allow him to settle his debts with the drover and to pay back the whole of Elvira's dowry. Then he could put most of the surplus back to work, providing income for future years.
Once he'd taken care of that necessity, he might even have enough to get his wife a little gift as a way of thanking her for her forbearance.
He'd better not buy her flowers, though, he chuckled to himself.
Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Eric Lascelles pointed out that sales grew fastest for products usually bought on credit — cars, furniture, household electronics and building supplies — and that Canadians are increasingly reliant on credit as their personal savings rate erodes.
But Mr. Lascelles also said there are several reasons a so-called negative savings rate — that is, spending more than you are earning in income — "does not spell imminent doom."
The first is that the calculation of the rate excludes the income people earn from the appreciation of assets they own.
"So if you're becoming richer because your house is more valuable and your stocks are more valuable, that's not reflected in your income. You could say people simply didn't need to save by conventional means."
This article originally appeared on the Sage Capital Weblog.
June 24, 2005
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