Super rich get richer – at what cost?

By Pat Watson Wednesday April 09 2014 in Opinion
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When you’re hungry, and don’t know where you can tap into a source to get a few dollars for food, when you are pressured yet again at the beginning of the month to decide whether to pay the rent late to buy some time so you can channel some money to an overdue utility bill, when you have to figure out how you’re getting to work because you can’t afford gas today for your 15-year-old vehicle, it is galling to hear news that 86 families in Canada have wealth equivalent to all the belongings of 11.4 million of Canada’s poorest.


Living in a state of poverty can do terrible things to a person’s mind. After all, people kill for money. That’s how desperate living in poverty while in the midst of affluence can make you. An individual could have murderous thoughts about a person with five dollars in his hand standing next to him because the individual has no money and has been without for many days.


You might think you would never come to that point but the emotional and social fallout from living poor day after day brings a person to startling points of personal depravity.


We among the poor may give some of our energy to feeling envy, anger, or even admiration to the rich, but it’s a safe bet the super wealthy do not spend much, if any, time thinking about us. Maybe you have heard of the Thomsons, the Westons, the Irvings, the Desmarais, the Pattisons. It’s a safe bet they haven’t heard of you.


By the way, they did not increase their collective wealth between 1999 and 2013 from $118 billion to $178 billion by earning a salary; they did it by buying and selling assets. Wealthy people have assets. Poor people have debt.


One of the reasons that 0.002 per cent of Canadians became even wealthier, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is this small group paid far less in taxes in the process of trading in these assets. So, part of why the rich get richer is that the tax system supports the mechanisms for acquiring assets, further promoting their wealth accumulation. They pay half as much in taxes on capital gains as people paying taxes on income. Moreover, all levels of government continue to lower corporate tax.


We can always chant the popular ‘tax the rich’ slogan in answer to that matter but there is a much bigger issue to be dealt with. It is not just a case of the poor getting poorer because the rich are getting richer. It is really a case of how to create a world of social and economic fairness so that we all have access to a healthy and dignified standard of living. That includes a realistic health support system, not one that whittles away various frontline services to control ballooning costs in areas that fall under the health ministries but have nothing to do with actual healthcare and health maintenance. It means a significant focus on the affordable housing issue. It means figuring out how to support affordable utility costs and looking at alternative energy sources that are accessible to everyone. It means ensuring that all workers have a real living wage.


Engaging in feeling like victims of the rich has no productive outcome. Envying them may work as a motivator for some to reach into those stratospheric financial levels, but only for a few, as evidence makes clear. Why have an argument with those who prioritize asset and wealth acquisition, as long as they are not doing it by stealing bread and shelter from those who need it?


My argument is with how we need to use our collective energies to put our priorities into reality. Part of the problem is that we see elected political figures and their supporting structure as overpowering and beyond our reach. That must change. They are public servants, not public masters.


The current generation of young people face a narrow future in terms of work prospects and other milestones that mark life. The way things are now cannot be an answer for how to have an equitable existence in the modern world. Change has got to come.

Another note on the discreditable…


So, another week, another Rob Ford folly. If Ford were a woman, Black or younger would this public figure still get your vote? What does White privilege look like?

Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose. 

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