E-letter: Sixteen tons

Back before the 19th Century, people used to become indebted and lose their freedom. One freedom loss was debtor’s prison. Another was indentured servitude. As with all things human, these situations took on every colour and shade in their applications. Families might “sell” a child into slavery to satisfy a debt. An African king might indenture his subjects to pay “tribute” to a warlike neighbour. 

Kerry Knudsen

In North America, it was relatively common for somebody down and out in Europe or England to promise to work for somebody if they would pay the price of passage to the New World. 

One problem in that system was in the fine print. For example, if there was interest, or if the indentured servant agreed to also work off room and board during the indentured period, the amount owed could increase faster than the debt could be retired, leading to a person being a legally bound slave for life. This theme was repeated in the 20th Century in the “company store” accounts of miners in the Appalachians and elsewhere having to rent homes and buy staples from the employer at rates they could not get ahead of. This was famously illustrated by the indenturing of the Irish and others to work in the cane fields of Jamaica and Barbados, as well as domestic and farm labour in Upper Canada. 


It has become oh-so fashionable to cite slavery as an historic evil, blame the perpetrators and act as if one knows all there is to know of the practice, yet almost every time they open their mouths they profess their ignorance. All it takes is the energy to crack a book to learn there is more to the story. My Viking ancestors raided the British Isles for slaves. The Barbary Moslems raided Scandinavia for slaves. The British raided the Irish for slaves. The Lakota raided the Crows for slaves. The Iroquois raided the Chippewa for slaves. The Kenyans raided the Ethiopians for slaves. As near as I can tell, every culture on earth has been guilty of slavery at one time or another. 

This is not to diminish any cultures blame or pain in slavery, but to point out that slavery has been part of the human condition for all time, and I’m not sure it’s going away, which is the point. 

I pointed out years ago that the advancement of credit to young people not yet firmed up in their fiscal development is a form of slavery. I see a lot of resumes from university graduates, and it’s a crime. You can see the most ludicrous “disciplines” imaginable as major courses of study – stuff I would have no use for under any circumstances, and then you hear of six-figure or near-six-figure school loan debt.  

One part of me says, “You were an adult. You signed the contract.” However, I also may be a crusty, grouchy old codger, but they were tricked, just as sure as if a checkered-pants, slouch-hat, alligator-shoes used car salesman sold them a car with no engine. The other part says fiscal pressure leads to despondence and even death. 

They are crying for relief, and I don’t blame them. Having paid off my own exorbitant student loans, I even empathize. Maybe one day there will be a resolution. I have to say, having once paid off my own loans, I am not anxious to pay off theirs, but that’s a story for another day. 

Another thing I have pointed out frequently is the habit that small-l liberals have of passing bills with great-sounding intentions, but having no way of paying. Well, almost no way. They actually do have a way. They have the power to indenture you and to indenture me, and they do. Why not make reparations for past wars, forgive student loans, provide free food, housing and health care? People “deserve” it.  

The problem is, once having made a list of “rights” with no responsibilities (which is what “free” means in this context), there comes a new list. Free books, free bus tickets, get out of jail free clauses…. There appears to be no end. 

I have become very, very concerned at what our future will be after Covid. The governments of every democracy have become ignorant of the rules that elevate democratic government above simple mob rule. They are passing out money that, not only do they not have, but that nobody has, all with the implied promise that it will all be better after we graduate – er, recover. 

Let me provide a simple, either-or question you can ask your representatives: do you think I am the one that will have to pay the piper, or are you an idiot?  


Back to cracking a book, if we look at history, we can see that mob rule ends up being the rule of the jungle – the strongest rule, not the most. At that point, some groups become the debtors, and some groups become the creditors, and it’s not always in line with what went before. For example, if the mob decides to “tax the rich,” and the rich resist, then the rich have to be compelled to comply, and also to be taught a lesson or be used as an example. The more the rich resist, the more they get shot. 

You may think I’m telling ghost stories around a cottage campfire in August, but I’m not. I have spent years counselling young men faced with the consequences of ill-considered borrowing, I have warned my kids and now I see it coming down the road again, just as sure as the ensign of a Barbary ship, hull-down off Copenhagen half a millennium ago. Trouble is on the way. 

Not all is negative. Covid will pass, and an election is coming up. Opportunities will become clear as days pass. Remember: just before Covid, the U.S. racked up China on international trade, and the effects of that a) never got a chance to mature, and b) have been obscured buy the racket over Covid. Remember: as of right now, the mortality rate in from Covid in Canada is 0.0003. Three one-hundredths of one percent. Approximately the same as the suicide rate. True, the suicide rate is annual, and Covid has only been with us six months. On the other hand, Covid will likely be resolved before long, and suicide will not. 

If I have any advice today, it’s to write your MP and MPP, muster your resources, be ready to be a buyer instead of a seller if the market starts to constrict and keep your reputation intact. Most importantly, start to study for the election. Elections are not popularity contests, despite our insistence to make them that way. Elections are how we choose who will rule us. That means who we give the keys to the treasury and the armory.  

Sorry to go negative on such a beautiful day, but I just saw yet another multi-million-dollar Trudeau scam hit the papers, and we are too good to tar and feather con men these days. 

Or maybe working for Justin and his fraternity is just our lot in life. 



  1. Hi Kerry
    I don’t normally reply or comment on Editor’s notes or commentaries but I after reading your commentary I was compelled to write to you. Thank you for such an insightful article. In the current times when we are bombarded by “black lives matter” issues ( not that these are not important issues), we get distracted from other underlining issues that affect our lives and our future. Very few have come out an pointed out all the wrongs that all cultures have participated in. I stand corrected, lot of people have come out and pointed out the wrongs that our governments have participated in our history. However those behaviors were culturally the norm at the time and culturally acceptable at the time. Yes, we have come a long way since but unfortunate that we can’t see the parallels of some of the events in modern day. Just like the American’s did not learn from the mistakes of the Spanish Flu to prevent the spread of Covid 19. I am now rambling, don’t get me started on Trump.
    I wish your perspective is discussed more in the mainstream media to get people thinking and question more about what our leaders are doing. Simply giving away money is not sustainable. My 20 year old son is on the receiving end as he is getting his $2000 / month for the last few months so yeah, its great. He is among the lucky ones that live at home and are supported by his parents for school and shelter. However the government doesn’t discriminate so he benefits now but what will be his price in his future? Also I like your point about the unsuspecting victims ( young kids ) with credit cards who are not taught the devastating toll of credit card debt. As adults, we tend to forget how naïve kids are or uneducated they are about credit. Talking to my son, who is 2nd year university, how apparently unexposed they are to financial education. They are not taught this in school sufficiently and most just stumble and learn as they go through life if they don’t have parents who teach them.

    Again thank you. I used to work in the Tile industry which is why I subscribed to your magazine. Now I am in the wallcovering industry. Moving up in the world. Lol.
    Melody Sum

  2. Your racist and shouldn’t be putting your own racist opinion on a publication for flooring
    I could debate your ideas if they were published in your magazine
    Bob Sinden

    • Kerry Knudsen says

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your time and your interest in Coverings magazine.

      From my perspective, there is quite a bit to talk about in a very short space. First, to be accurate, I am definably not a racist. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions, but the term “racist” is what they call in debate an ad hominem (at the man) assault and in a formal setting you would lose, as it’s a fallacy.

      We have spoken many times on the importance of open discussion on current social issues in a business magazine. Business cannot function in an asocial environment, and politics determines how much you can make and how much you can keep. Books have been written….

      That said, our policy of long standing is to provide an open forum for discussion, and an open chance for anybody that has a different take on what we cover in the magazine or newsletters.

      The floor is yours, and it is probable we can get your response in the current issue if it’s posted today or tomorrow. We go to press on Wednesday, so I will have to tear up a page to get you in, but I can try, or I can propose an alternative.

      Please note, you said “debate” and “ideas.” I cannot promise to publish emotional name-calling.

      Over to you.


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