Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Income disparity a national disgrace in Canada

By Linda McQuaid, Toronto Star, December 29, 2010
Over the last three decades, the tables of the rich have overflowed, with barely any scraps falling off. On the contrary, there’s been a massive transfer of income and wealth from Canada’s middle and lower class to the rich.

The result is that Canada has become a highly unequal society.
This is bad news, since a growing body of empirical evidence shows that extreme inequality has a clearly negative effect on a wide range of health, social and economic problems, as well as undermining democracy.
While some degree of inequality is inevitable and even desirable (allowing bigger rewards for those making bigger contributions), the level of inequality that exists today in the Anglo-American countries — the United States, Britain and Canada — is extreme, and almost unique in the advanced world.
This is a dramatic departure from the far greater equality that prevailed in the U.S. and Canada in the early postwar years — from 1945 to about 1980 — when the benefits of economic growth were more widely shared....
As a recent study by economist Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents, the top-earning 1 per cent of Canadians almost doubled their share of national income, from 7.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, over the past three decades.

And the higher up the food chain, the bigger the gains. The richest 0.01 per cent — those now earning on average $3.8 million a year — more than quintupled their share of national income...

As a recent study by economist Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents, the top-earning 1 per cent of Canadians almost doubled their share of national income, from 7.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, over the past three decades.
And the higher up the food chain, the bigger the gains. The richest 0.01 per cent — those now earning on average $3.8 million a year — more than quintupled their share of national income.
The massive upward flow of income has largely been invisible to the public, even though it may well amount to the most significant change in Canadian society in decades.
The impact on Canada’s social fabric is huge and likely to grow. Recent research — particularly the work of British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — shows that less equal societies almost always have more violence, more disease, more mental health problems, higher infant mortality rates, reduced life expectancies, as well as less social cohesion. The effects are most pronounced at the bottom, but are evident throughout the society.
Perhaps most striking is the finding that people in less equal societies have reduced social mobility. In fact, there’s little upward mobility today in the United States. Those wanting to give their children a chance to actually live the American Dream are better off moving to Sweden.
There’s also evidence linking extreme inequality with serious economic problems. The level of inequality reached in 2008 was virtually identical to that of 1929, suggesting that large concentrations of wealth at the top create a dynamic leading to reckless financial speculation and Wall Street crashes — with their devastating consequences of recession and unemployment.
But perhaps the most important impact of concentrated economic power is on democracy. As the great American jurist Louis Brandeis put it: “We can have democracy . . . or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”
Income disparity does not wear a turban, nor a burqa, nor a black, or brown or yellow skin, or a clerical collar, or a waitress' or a waiter's apron, nor a mechanic's coverall, nor a teacher's chalk dust, nor a technologist's lab coat....it wears all of these various garbs and identities.
The whole of the Canadian social fabric is stained with the slick oil of the deception of those responsible for this dramatic shift in opportunity, in hope and in confidence, not to mention all of the other more digitally represented deficits referred to by Ms McQuaid in her dramatic piece. There ought to be people rioting in the streets, as they know what is happening to their income relative to the incomes of those at the top of the economic and fiscal pyramid.
At least there ought to be a more audible and visible cry: 
  • for a national election to dump the Conservative government of Stephen Harper,
  • and for a re-written tax code,
  • and for a re-designed social assistance framework,
  • a re-negotiated national health act,
  • and for a national commitment to junk those F35 Fighter Jets and their $20 billion drain on the national budget
It is long past time for the country to dump a government that represents a mere 37% of the electorate but  the division of the votes between the various political parties, including the Bloc Quebecois with its fifty-plus seats, effectively denies any political party a majority in the House of Commons.
Hasn't the Liberal party been punished enough at the ballot box for the incredible misdeeds of its backroom "hacks" in Quebec? Does the country not see past those stupid and relatively minor infractions, to the larger history of a party that governed wisely and compassionately for nearly a century? Is the country more bent on revenge than on its own best interests?
Has the country not been held hostage for too long by a party seeking to dismember the federation?
Has the country not bent over backwards, in its own self-sabotage, for too long?
Only in Canada would the schools not teach the literature of the Canadian writers, while the rest of the world celebrates their work...and only in Canada would the parliament and the judiciary permit a political party dedicated to the dismemberment of the country to hold a large block of seats from a single province, thereby removing the opportunity for any other political party to gain a majority in the House of Commons, and thereby so 'balkanizing' the country politically, that a band of neo-cons can and has taken over the country on behalf of a minority of the electorate. And that minority has deep pockets, and grows them ever deeper.
And the income spread continues to grow, while I write this, and while we all go about our daily chores...silently, steathily and successfully.
As in Ontario, where it has taken decades to undo the damage of the Harris government, in Ottawa, it could take at least two decades to undo the damage inflicted by this government.
And Mr. Ignatieff, so polite and so elegant and so uninspired and uninspiring in his every utterance...on behalf of the millions who seek his party's return to government, (even if in a coalition with the N.D.P) demonstrates that political correcctness, and not political contempt for the policies and practices of the government, generate more interviews in italics and not in 72-point type as is needed.
"We are different from them" is hardly a cry that will echo through the coffee shops and the pubs and the union halls and the board rooms of the nation, when an election is called, as it will certainly be called, likely within the next six months.
These facts in Ms McQuaid's piece constitute a national disgrace. Surely others can and do see that.
Surely, Ms McQuaid is not writing in vain?
Here is just one example of the government's misguided approach:
By Sunny Dhillon, Globe and Mail, December 29, 2010
The (Canadian Taxpayers') federation’s annual study found that while virtually every worker in Canada will pay more, taxpayers in provinces with inflation rates above the national average will see a disproportionate increase. In the federation’s research scenarios, Ontario residents saw an average increase of 4.3 per cent. B.C. and Nova Scotia workers came in at 2.9 per cent.

Mr. Fildebrandt said much of the blame for the increase lies with the Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan programs.
“Nationally, the culprit is EI. The federal government has created new social programs that it’s decided will be funded through EI premiums, even though most of these things have little if anything to do with employment insurance as the words should actually mean.”
The federation – a non-profit group that advocates for lower taxes – pointed to a program that provides $246-million in EI funds as special benefits for fisheries.

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