Tuesday, 24 March 2015

2001: A Deficit Odyssey

Richard Rohmer's Death by Deficit is a work of speculative fiction that takes place in a near-future Canada where a newly-elected government must contend with a devastating financial crisis that threatens to bankrupt the country.  At the same time, the world is engulfed in a pandemic where a virus causing amnesia is running rampant.  It's a race against time to restore the economy so they can have the resources to combat the virus - before they forget everything:

"...sooner or later the world markets were going to...how do you North Americans put it?" (pg. 144)

"..the amount the Russians have received are ...how do you say it in America (?)" (pg. 149)

"Your deficit target is...what is it again?" (pg. 149)

"That's how you deal with a budget, isn't it?" (pg. 151)

"Also his Deputy Minister," added Smart.
"Who's that?"
"Paul Simpson"
 "Yeah"  (pg. 4)

"And if you can't get her, then get the Deputy Governor, whoever it is"  (pg. 5)

"The premiers." The PM hadn't considered them. "Of course"  (pg. 21)

"You're right, Peter.  I'd forgotten you're a lawyer" (pg. 73)

"I have to figure out what to tell that fellow - what's his name, Tromso?" (pg. 73)

"Well, wouldn't it be fair to have the Minister of Agriculture here - what's his  name?"  (pg. 78)

"If you can't reach anyone there, try the President's Chief of Staff ...what's his name?" (pg. 85)

"That'll give me time to work it into my budget speech if I think...what's his name again?" (pg .161)

"I've already told them it will be there by two-thirty"
"That's right, I did ask you to do that earlier, didn't I? Must be losing it" (pg. 159)


  1. Cut them some slack, Stan. Remember, they've just been voted into... what do you call it again?


    That's right. Office. Get office on the phone. I'll be banging the... uh...

    Governor General?

    That's right.

  2. Death Before Deficit; or, Better Dead than in the Red

  3. Or, should be be trying for a Robert Ludlum-esque title, why not THE WEINSTOCK SOLUTION or THE BUCHANAN PROPOSAL.

  4. Can I confess something here in the comments? I have no idea how the Buchanan Proposal works. It's a surtax on industry, right? I think I love this book because it's so Rohmery. The Prime Minister, like all prime ministers, is going to make a public announcement five pages from the end of the book about accepting or not accepting something, but in this case there are not one but TWO plans, and they're BOTH secret. So the Prime Minister will be spending 50% of his speech explaining a path that he won't be taking. Perfect madness! Also, what happens when the government falls 30 seconds after the PM announces that he'll be cancelling all government functions except the army and paying off the Japanese? Or will the RCMP restrain the people, too?

    1. I don't get the Buchanan Proposal either, but I think the fault lies in the way it's explained. Much more nuanced than the Weinstock Solution: We give you this in exchange for this, this and this. What I'm wondering is why you'd never bother contacting the man behind the Buchanan Proposal, especially since it's the option you're going to recommend. Is it because Sir Robin was real - he died not two years ago - or is it just because you don't have his number? You can't ask Weinstock because that would be letting on.

      What I find so Rohmery about Death by Deficit is that it falls on one man to do pretty much everything, speechwriting included. Had he more time, our PM would've been piloting that Challenger.

  5. It feels like the Chief of Staff (was that his title?) was going to be a character, and then Rohmer lost interest. Let the PM do it. This happens in a lot of Rohmers to one degree or another -- Balls is a good example. Indistinguishable guys, one slightly older than the other, fly around the oil states and the North West Territories selling a plan until the President or the Prime Minister brings it all home in a televised address.

    I think you and I are making the same assumption about the Buchanan Proposal. Rohmer was working on the book, ran the premise by Sir Robin, and Sir Robin said: You know, you wouldn't have to shut down ALL the social services; you could also raise taxes. And Rohmer had to at least give lip service to the idea, because Sir Robin knew the Queen, or let Rohmer use his beach house or something.

    I think I've mentioned this before, but in some sit com rooms the Buchanan Proposal would be called an "up and back." That's a story move -- an act to solve the problem that fails, for instance -- that leaves your protagonist exactly where he was when he started.

    Wait, unless the PM accepted the Buchanan Proposal? I already forget.

    Either way, "You've got an up-and-back there" is not an expression of praise. But it's no problem for Rohmer.

    Your guess is as good as mine: Did Rohmer ever rewrite at all?

    1. I had to check to make certain my memory was correct and that the PM proposed accepting the Proposal with the Weinstock Solution as backup. It could've just as easily been the reverse. Or he could've followed the IMF's dictates. This is so often the problem with Rohmer's endings. The suspense relies on a decision. What it will be is anyone's guess. An announcement is made and the book ends. We never know why the PM chooses one over the other, he just does.

      (And do we care? Sylvia Oxley aside, is anyone itching to read a thriller about fiscal policy?)

      Rereading the book will yield no clues because the author is making it up as he goes along. And he doesn't rewrite.*

      I retrospect, with all the slashing, cutting and selling, you might think the PM is going to go with the IMF. The other proposals don't require anything so drastic. Indeed, under the Weinstock Solution the government would be flush with cash: no debt, no debt payments. Ditto the Buchanan Proposal, even though tax credits would eat into revenue… I think.

      * The best evidence that Rohmer doesn't rewrite is the 1998 "second edition" of Patton's Gap, which is the same text with the new revelatory material tacked on as an Afterword with appendices.

      (I've just noticed this from the dust jacket: "And in a startling new Afterword, Rohmer discloses the identity of the young Canadian pilot who caught Erwin Rommel on 17 July 1944, which led to Rommel's being taken out of the Battle of Normandy. The incident had a major impact on the outcome of the war."

      But, um, Rohmer disclosed the identity of that young Canadian pilot twelve years earlier in Rommel and Patton, repeating the claim in interviews over the years that followed.)

  6. Which plan the PM chooses isn't important. What matters is that Canada won't let itself get pushed around by the Japanese. It will... uhm... give them everything they want. And then a random province will separate. Let's say... PEI.

  7. To me the Buchanan Plan doesn't eliminate the debt, but transfers it to corporations, companies, banks, etc. But if that drove 1/3 of them into bankruptcy, then the debt wouldn't get paid off and in fact would get much worse. The plan can only work if every entity stays solvent.

    Also - who's going to sit back and take it? It would tied up for years in legal challenges, all the while the debt would grow and grow.

    But when I finished it a couple of days back, I kept thinking about a point Chris made: why does no one suggest talking to the Japanese? Does PM Blank ever ask someone for External Affairs to send in their Japanese expert to see if there is any way to stop this?

  8. I think it was Brian who pointed out that the banks in Rohmer's Japan's are controlled by the emperor. He cannot be reached by phone or any other manner. And he always announces when he intends to sell all his investments in another country -- to make sure that the price goes down, and he can lose as much money as possible. Inscrutable? You betcha.

  9. When's the best time to hold a self-destructive fire sale on your Canadian investments? The second a new conservative administration takes over.

  10. Better yet, a Reform/PC alliance.