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Law and the recession.

A few years back a friend took issue with the frequent references to "the economy" in which we live. She pointed out (strongly if I recall correctly) there was more to her world than "the economy". She considered this at length, but could never settle on the best word to use, just that the word "economy" was too narrow or too financial-centric; it was in short, not quite right. She is still looking for a better, more descriptive word; one more representative of all the broad aspects of society or humankind (my words).

Recent events in the global economy have impacted the entire world and this issue of LawNow explores "Law and the Recession". This brings me back to my friend's concern, because it is increasingly clear to me that there is more to the recession than "the economy". There are real dangers if we limit our attention to just the direct economic or broader financial impacts of the recession and ignore non-financial or less often measured impacts to individuals, society at large, and many institutions such as the family or other relationships in society.

This issue of LawNow prompts us to expand our view and recognize the reach of the recession beyond the general economy and into other legal aspects of our everyday lives. Employment, Bankruptcy, Taxes, Public Infrastructure or Private Foreclosures all merit our attention whether we are directly impacted, or indirectly bear the consequences of these events to individuals as they are borne out on a societal scale.

In my work as an advocate I have some firsthand contact with people experiencing the far reaching impacts of a recession. There is real hardship visited on people who rely on systems which can be described as essential: services like utilities, health care, basic and higher education, housing or a safe and affordable place to live and the like. Many find their whole world suffering under the strain of a changed economic outlook. Anyone on a fixed income or working in the "new economy" of non-traditional work has, in the last decade, likely borne both the challenges of rising costs in a growing economy and the adversity caused by the forces of a recession. Consumers are faced with tougher and more complex decisions and have to shed their unlimited wants to satisfy basic needs. Even still they often go ever deeper into debt. Consumers, businesses and even governments are forced to examine the cost and price of any choice. Importantly, we are all more often required to assess the real value of each choice we make. All of this while we are plagued by the challenges to our limited resources and pressures from the new global economy, often exhibited in shortages of capacity, time, money, or all of them. The resulting stress compounds to take its own toll.

There is no single cure for what is ailing us and it is cold comfort to suggest that time will heal all the injured. On the way to recovery, an early step is recognizing the problems that exist. Here again, this issue of LawNow takes us beyond just an economy in recession to some of the legal challenges that face individuals, families, other institutions and governments. Will a broader view provide the answer? It can! We need to recognize that, just as economic problems manifest themselves outside the realm of the economy, so too can solutions reside out there.

One interesting possibility comes from Calgary where a number of organizations have produced a report titled "Dashed Dreams, New Realities: Calgarians Talk Frankly about the Impact of the Economic Downturn". It seems odd but from the city which was at the center of the overheated economy, we are told "participants were really grateful to have been asked their opinions". So a starting point might be frank talk in the aftermath of a recession. Think about that: talking about the challenges and listening to each other--it almost sounds too old-fashioned in our new digital age--Listen--and to each other? Then again maybe being concerned about the wellbeing of others will never go out of fashion and increased awareness of the plight of others is a simple start anyone can make. So for those of us in helping roles, professions or leadership positions, if we are searching for solutions, one idea is that it is important to talk to people and listen to them to learn about their experiences. Even though the recession has touched us all, it is important to remember that the impacts are felt in very unique and personal ways. Here I would add that those listening ought to also try to demonstrably prove they listened to what was shared with them. Listening with no intent to help has never been enough. Only if we become aware of and know the impacts can we assess them, and knowing them, truly start progress toward the solutions.

In the end aren't we all, like my friend searching for her better, more descriptive word, still looking for our better collective world? Only if we try can we make a world which is more respectful of all aspects of society or humankind.

Dashed Dreams, New Realities: Calgarians Talk Frankly about the Impact of the Economic Downturn

Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

Suite 970, 1202 Centre Street S. Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2G 5A5 Phone: 403-244-6666 Fax: 403-244-5596

Copyright [c] 2009 Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

Jim Wachowich is a lawyer in general practice of law in Edmonton, Alberta. Since 1994 he has represented the Consumers' Coalition of Alberta, an independent residential consumer group, in matters before the utility regulator in Alberta.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Author:Wachowich, Jim
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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