Friday, December 3, 2010

As income shifts, so too does power

By Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail, December 1, 2010
(Ms. Yalnizyan is the chief researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and this story is based on a recent report she prepared for the CCPA on income distribution in Canada.)
Ms. Yalnizyan said the major trend she identifies is that the wealthiest Canadians are increasing their share of income at a historic pace. Looking back over the past 90 years, income is now concentrated in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1920s, she said. In the past decade, almost a third of income growth has gone to the richest 1 per cent, she added.

The big picture shows that after the Second World War, Canadian society distributed income in an increasingly level fashion. From 1946 to 1977, she writes, the income share of the richest 1 per cent fell from 14 per cent to 7.7 per cent. That trend was reversed over the past 30 years, as the top 1 per cent regained its 14-per-cent share of Canadian income. Over that time, the richest 0.1 per cent almost tripled their income share and the richest 0.01 per cent increased their share fivefold.
With this kind of empirical evidence based on solid research, there is no reason for the leaders of the opposition parties NOT to bring the government down, if for no other reason that to restore the country to a more equitable distribution of income.
This dramatic shift, which the democrats have been pointing out with some vigour south of the border for a few years, needs to have an army of committed generals (metaphorically speaking) dedicated to a public awareness campaign that would make all the other "issue" campaigns look like a pimple on an elephant by comparison. This collaborative and co-ordinated campaign would be not so much in righteous anger but rather in rational argument about the loss of opportunity, the loss of incentives, the loss of aspiration and hope among the large majority of the Canadian people, not to mention the increase in complete hopelessness and the rising costs of that dynamic in social services directly attributable to the daily costs of governments doing their business.
The nature of the society that most of us grew up in has changed, and it does not take a degree in economics from the London School of Economics to recognize the broad and serious implications of this drift.
If the drift continues unabated, and the coffers of the wealthy continue to grow at rates exceeding the speed of light, and the gap between the incomes at the top and those at the bottom (because there will be no 'middle') then what we are currently witnessing in the proverbial 'third world' will be taking place right here on the streets of our own towns and villages.
The polite apathy, and the repectful disengagement and the trust that the rich and powerful have placed in the compliance of the 'masses' with whatever the governments-and-business "boardrooms" decide is waiting for a reasonable, rational and articulate, but collaborative leadership to waken that apathy and that respect and turn it into the kind of political force, not about the single issues like raising the retirement age (that is bringing the people into the streets in France, for example) but rather about the whole glacial "melt" of a set of values and princples that served us very well for decades and that has been lost to greed and to manipulation and to the many implications of powerlessness.
And one of the many attitudinal shifts is that those "leading" our institutions have what might easily be called a "divine right" of power and leadership in a closed inner sanctum that is not penetrated by the voices of the people, to leven the bread of their discussions and to level the playing field...and that renders them even more sterile in their perceptions of the righteousness of their various minimal, do-not-rock-the-boat approaches to their responsibilities.
We may have replaced the former monarchy with a self-designated monarchy of the top .001% of the population and they will seek to serve themselves at our expense if we let them!
The guilded age of the 1920's, and the depression led to places we do not wish to go to again....including military conflicts...we need to take political action, as a citizenry before that happens again, becuase this time the weapons will not be so miniscule.

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