Hot! Canada’s rich are not the enemy

NationalPost.com – Fullcomment/Canada
Apr 26, 2011.    Editorial Board

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. [They are] soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful … They think … that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.”

These words by F. Scott Fitzgerald summarize the classic stereotype of rich people: They are idle snobs who inherited their money and have little in common with, or sympathy for, people of lesser means. Throughout history, this view has formed the basis of many redistributionist creeds. The underlying premise — which has seeped into much of the anti-corporate agitation on display in the current election campaign — is that the rich are infected, perhaps even from birth, with the taint of undeserved wealth.

But a study published on April 19 suggests that most of Canada’s wealthy individuals are not a breed apart. BMO Harris Private Banking recently conducted an online survey of 459 Canadian millionaires. Of these, a scant 6% report that they inherited the bulk of their wealth. Ninety-four percent state that they are largely self-made, either as businesspersons or professionals. Eighty percent affirm that they enjoy greater wealth than their parents. And 76% believe it is important to give back to their communities.

What does this study tell us? First, that the rich are far from idle. Work is the underpinning of their wealth. Instead of envying their luck, we should seek to replicate their success — and teach our children to do the same.

Second, that upward mobility is a reality in our country. The myth that you cannot become rich unless you are born into money is false: Canada is a land of opportunity.

Third, that the rich have considerable empathy for those less fortunate. The BMO study confirms an earlier survey the company conducted in 2010, which found that overall, wealthy Canadians planned to give away between 1% to 3% of their wealth (assets, not income) that year.

The rich have more money than the rest of us — in some cases, a lot more money. But most have earned it themselves through hard work. This is something we should remember as we endure the catcalls of class warfare during this election campaign and beyond.

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