Our Future for Sale, maybe

Here is my most recent magazine feature in The Walrus, Canada's leading magazine of politics and culture. It's about 8,000 words: "Office of the President," an in-depth profile of Indira Samarasekera, Canada's leading university advocate and rising global star.

It's also an investigative look into how universities are increasingly defined by exterior forces, such as energy companies looking to improve their profits and governments hungry for research that fuels economic growth. As the story makes clear, both universities and politicians are not always rising to the challenges ahead. 

Thanks to The Walrus for letting me take the story on some unexpected turns! Journalism is more fun when you don't know the destination.


From Tiananmen to Wal-Mart

This month marks the 21st anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square massacre. I was a exchange student in central China during the spring '89 democracy movement and during Tiananmen on June 4th, and I still recall the crushing realization among students that "Chinese people could shoot Chinese people." Many student activists were patriots at heart, and the army's attack represented a enormous emotional defeat that probably did as much to undermine and demoralize the democracy movement as did the prospect of jail time and political persecution. (An estimated 113,000 people gathered on June 4th this year in Hong Kong, so there is hope too.)

But here's something else I learned. Failed democracy in China remains critical to creating the bonanza of cheap goods and affordable electronics that have captivated and subsidized western consumers from the 1990s onward. The series of worker suicides at iPhone manufacturer Foxconn -- ten in the last year -- is concerning, but this is the very tip of the iceberg, as I found in my book The Price of a Bargain. If you go shopping today, think of all the cool technology and cheap stuff created through locked-in labour markets and strict controls of post-Tiananmen China.  

Click to read more ...


Back at work, looking ahead

A month goes by fast. I'm back at work now, and busy on an assignment for The Walrus, Canada's leading magazine. I'm writing and doing media to support my book as well, and generally returning to the world of freelance journalism. I am also very keen about my Chinese and Korean editions of The Price of a Bargain, currently under translation.

Click to read more ...


Addison Laird 2001-2010

Very sadly, I must announce the death of my nine-year old son Addison, who succumbed to complications last Wednesday night originating from a bone marrow transplant in May 2009. He was a bright light and he is already missed by many. Thanks to all who helped and loved along the way.

Click to read more ...


Excerpt: From Las Vegas to Dollar Stores - How Cheap Stuff Changed The World

It was in Las Vegas -- in the Sands Convention Centre to be exact -- where I began to more fully understand the global economy. Inside one of the world's largest merchandise shows, I met and interviewed wholesalers, offshore manufacturers, and retailers active in the bargain trade -- people I describe as "bargaineers," engineers of discounts.  As I report in The Price of a Bargain, and in this recent excerpt, discounting isn't just Wal-Mart: it represents a much bigger grassroots expansion (and transformation) of the global economy that began in the 1970s and now encompasses hundreds of millions of people: 

"It's little bits of our everyday lives laid out on tables and shelves, almost exclusively manufactured in China and Southeast Asia. There are generic kitchen items - spatulas, scrubber pads - common to hundreds of thousands of households. I see toys from my kids' playroom: plastic sharks, blocks, stuffed animals. Crowds gather, searching for the world's best bargains. Storeowners from Lima, Peru, browse bedsheets. Iowa wholesalers offer replica Tiffany lamps. Chain-store retailers and dollar-store managers barter over all things both essential and unlikely, from toothbrushes to neon Bob Marley sculptures, samurai swords, witchcraft kits, and miniature motorcycles. Brand-name toothpaste and neon Jesus dioramas; Shrek backpacks and baby shoes."

The significance all this kitsch and cheap stuff isn't always obvious. Bargains have shaped globalization, and our quest for cheap continues to dominate the 21st century, for better and for worse. Read more here in The Montreal Gazette