Rich get richer, poor get poorer

TheStar.com – opinion/letters – Re: Rise in Canadian inequality is a myth, Letters Jan. 17
Published On Sat Jan 22 2011.

How ironic that the Fraser Institute’s Mark Milke goes to such convoluted efforts to dispel what he calls a myth, when he spends most of his time creating his own fairy tales. The Fraser Institute, contrary to the fable they present in public, is a right-wing, conservative think-tank whose sole purpose is to promote the benefits of capitalism and to ensure that the facts and the truth don’t get in the way of the corporate elite maximizing their profits.

His denouncement is cut from the same cloth used in attempts to discredit other major issues, such as global warming and, not so long ago, the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. What really irks is that he and his ilk don’t have the guts to say what they truly stand for — but you can be sure that it’s not about the best interests of the rest of us.

Leon Marr, Toronto

We can’t let Mark Milke get away with it.

I have just finished reading Linda McQuaig and Neil Brook’s wonderful book, The Trouble with Billionaires. They make a watertight case both for growing inequality in our society and for the damage that this inequality causes, which affects us all.

Milke avoids the main issue, which is that the very rich have recently got much richer, so that their wealth has reached proportions unimaginable to most people.

If Bill Gates counted his money at the rate of $1 per second, he would have had to start in AD 330, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, to finish up now. Top so-called wage-earners pass the average Canadian annual income when January has hardly begun.

Such wealth does matter, because with it comes power. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is quoted in the book as saying, “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”

There is still some social mobility in Canada, say McQuaig and Brooks, something we share with, for example, Norway and Sweden, where inequality is minimal. But this is not true of the United States, where the American Dream is dead.

No one can really deserve an income of millions a year, as the broader society is needed to make possible the contributions that we attribute to individuals.

McQuaig and Brooks show that tax authorities who extract the last dime from the average citizen allow the wealthy to get away with literally billions, which, once in the treasury, could have made all the difference to our schools, health services and social safety net.

The book even mentions the Fraser Institute as part of the problem.

“In Canada . . . climate change denial efforts have been spearheaded by the amply funded business think-tank the Fraser Institute . . . The Fraser’s relentless campaign over the past decade, buttressed by media attention to climate change deniers, has succeeded in creating enough apparent controversy around the issue for the Canadian government to get away with taking no action — despite the enormity of Canada’s carbon footprint and the growing condemnation of the world.” The tar sands come to mind.

These people are paid truth-twisters. They put the desire of some people for enormous wealth before the future of the world.

We should not listen to them, but should heed the good advice, especially as regards tax reform, which is given in this book.

Jenny Carter, Peterborough

Mark Milke criticizes Linda McQuaig’s assessment that the growing inequality of wealth affects the vast majority of Canadians in a negative manner. He states that this growing inequality is a myth.

Milke then denotes that he is a director of the Fraser Institute; the public knows the Fraser Institute is synonymous with the support of corporations.

Corporations constantly whine for lower taxes for themselves and the wealthy, less regulations and privatization of government services (health care).

These guarantee a greater inequality between the elites and the rest of Canadians.

McQuaig’s economic assessment is more believable than a Fraser Institute hack. Milke might refresh himself intellectually by reading Lynda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’ latest book, The Trouble With Billionaires.

Don Schmidt, Toronto

Of course the growth of social inequality is a myth, because the increase in wealth for the wealthy has been nicely balanced by the increase in the use of food banks by the poor.

Keith Parkinson, Cambridge

The growth of income inequality since the early 1980s is well documented. CEO salaries and bonuses have grown almost astronomically, as have those for various categories of celebrities such as sports and entertainment. Of course a letter writer from the Fraser Institute would claim that is good for the overall economy.

The Fraser Institute is a registered “not-for-profit” that is dependent on donations from people “who support less government intervention and more personal responsibility.” Their own words identify the right-wing bias of this group which includes as senior fellows the likes of Tom Flanagan, Mike Harris, Ralph Klein, and Preston Manning.

All these luminaries of academic scholarship have demonstrated propensities toward disenfranchising the poor and shifting taxes from businesses to individuals.

In fact, while our deficits and debt are growing, our current Finance Minister James Flaherty, is set to introduce further corporate tax cuts. Corporate taxes in Canada have been reduces from 44.6 per cent in 1999 to 33 per cent in 2009. This is what groups like the Fraser Institute and the Chamber of Commerce want.

Their belief in less government intervention also leads them to advocate personal responsibility for retirement pensions and medical expenses, for an end to social safety nets. To this end they have shifted taxes from businesses to individuals, with much of the burden put on the backs of the middle income levels. Those groups with the highest incomes and the biggest increases in income since the 1980s are not paying the bulk of tax — they enjoy too many special breaks.

Just watch, the next tactic in the plan will be to claim the debt precludes the ability of government to provide social services at all. What I fail to understand is why anyone in a middle income bracket or lower would support these types of views or the policies of the Harper government.

Roman Haluszka, Newmarket

In seeking to downplay deep and persistent poverty and growing inequality in Canada and Toronto, the Fraser Institute’s Mark Milke avoids the large and growing body of evidence.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2008 Growing Unequal concludes: “After 20 years of continuous decline, both inequality and poverty rates [in Canada] have increased rapidly in the past 10 years, now reaching levels above the OECD average.”

Locally, the University of Toronto’s Three Cities research tracks poverty and inequality over more than three decades and the United Way of Toronto’s Vertical Poverty provides a detailed insight into grim social and economic conditions in the city’s 1,000 high-rise towers.

The research confirms the terrible impact of poverty and inequality in generating increased illness and premature death. For instance, Toronto’s Unequal City (2008) notes, among dozens of troubling indicators, that the premature mortality rate among poor men in Toronto is 54 per cent higher than among wealthier men.

The bottom line: Poverty and inequality are bad for the poor, and for the rest of us, too. Pretending they don’t exist, or attempting to downplay their devastating impact on the lives and health of people and communities, won’t make them go away.

Most of the research, local and international, points to structural solutions. The OECD says cuts to income transfers (that reduce the amount of money available to seniors, the unemployed, the disabled, and the poor to pay for housing, food, medicine and other basics) have been a key driver of poverty and inequality in Canada.

Canadian and Toronto studies also point to the urgent need to concentrate on the basics, like ensuring that everyone has access to healthy, affordable homes.

Michael Shapcott, Director, Affordable Housing and Social Innovation, Wellesley Institute, Toronto

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