Billionaires get richer while millions struggle. There’s a lot wrong with this picture

Posted on September 22, 2020 in Equality Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials

Something is seriously out of whack with the global economy when hundreds of millions of people are thrown into unemployment and yet the billionaires who dominate the world of business are getting richer than ever.

In the United States, which has the most members of this club, the wealth of billionaires has surged by nearly a trillion dollars since the beginning of the pandemic, according to analysis by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

In August, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos became the first person ever to amass a net worth over $200 billion (up from a mere $113 billion back in March). It’s dropped a bit this month but overall he’s joined by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Telsa’s Elon Musk, Zoom’s Eric Yuan and dozens of others in enjoying massive wealth gains in these difficult times.

Even in Canada, where the billionaires clock in a tier or two below the top, the ultra rich have done very well for themselves during the pandemic.

Canada’s top 20 billionaires collectively have become $37 billion richer. That’s in the midst of an economic crisis that has left millions of Canadians unemployed or working reduced hours and struggling with bills, and our governments are borrowing to fund emergency financial aid for individuals and businesses to stave off even greater hardship.

Among Canada’s pandemic-winning billionaires are Galen Weston and family, who own the Loblaws empire, and Jim Pattison, who owns a chain of grocery stores in Western Canada.

That alone is a powerful demonstration that trickle-down economics, which holds that when business and the wealthy flourish everyone benefits, simply doesn’t work.

The Westons and Pattison got a lot richer but those gains didn’t trickle down to their workers. In fact, Loblaws and its subsidiaries and Pattison’s Save-on-Foods chain chose to end the $2-an-dollar “hero pay” raise that was given to front-line staff early on in the pandemic.

Weston said it wasn’t necessary anymore and Pattison claimed he was powerless to affect such business decisions.

No wonder a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer this year found the top one per cent of wealthy Canadians account for more than a quarter of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 40 per cent account for a measly one per cent.

Of course we’ve long known the real economy and the financial markets are quite different and the economy can tank for the many at the same time that the stock market soars to the advantage of the few. But growing inequality — and public concern about it — is being exacerbated by the pandemic. That makes this a particularly good time to revisit the many policy tools Ottawa has to do something about it.

Tax reform tops the list. Canada can do more to prevent and pursue companies that hide billions from the taxman in offshore tax havens and close the many loopholes that let the very wealthy lower their tax bill.

Canada must move to tax digital revenues, especially as more services go online. A total no-brainer is applying sales tax to digital subscriptions with foreign-based companies like Netflix and Apple TV, in the same way they’re charged for Canadian companies.

The federal New Democrats are pushing for a one-per-cent wealth tax on family fortunes over $20 million and according to the Parliamentary Budget Office that would net $5.6 billion this fiscal year, rising to nearly $9.5 billion in eight years. That’s significant and worth consideration.

These measures — many long supported by the Star — are not about denying people the ability to make money, even incredibly vast sums if they can. But the mega-rich should be expected to contribute a fairer share to help build the stronger and healthier society we all benefit from.

Democracy isn’t just about shared decision making, it’s about creating shared futures. And there’s no good future that includes these ever-growing and obscenely vast income disparities.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020 at 10:35 am and is filed under Equality Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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